Over 500 academics, writers, artists, activists and journalists from around the world, including Noam Chomsky, Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Patrick Farrell and celebrated writer Bapsi Sidhwa, have condemned the detention and alleged torture of photojournalist Shahidul Alam, and demanded his immediate release.
“Shahidul Alam's detention underlines the growing crackdown on dissenting voices in Bangladesh, in a pattern that is visible elsewhere too,” said a statement yesterday.
Shahidul Alam was picked up by plainclothes men on Sunday night and was placed on a seven-day remand by a Dhaka court the next day in a case filed against him under Section 57 of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act.
The court denied him bail and granted police a seven-day remand. This was subsequently reduced, but he has been taken back to the DB office.
Alam is the founder of Drik Picture Library and Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, known globally for documenting the rights of the vulnerable and poor, and for his consistent coverage of human rights abuses, the statement said.
The signatories demanded that the government drop all charges against Shahidul Alam, ensure that he is provided medical treatment and released immediately.
“Change laws that allow the state to make such whimsical attacks on freedom of expression; stop arresting journalists and citizens without warrant, prosecuting and jailing them
under ICT Act, a law that even the government admits has been misused,” it said.
They also demanded that the government use restraint in dealing with young protestors, many of them children, and ensure that police play their role responsibly rather than with rubber bullets and tear gas as they have done so far.
“Follow due process in dealing with the counter-demonstrators attacking the students; the attackers should not be given impunity based on their affiliation,” it said.
Sixty-nine noted rights activists, academics and civil society members of Bangladesh also strongly condemned repression of students, journalists and especially Shahidul Alam by the government, including arbitrary police remand under the ICT Act.
If anything he has done is considered against the law, charges could be brought in the due process, but nothing justifies unlawful abduction, arbitrary remand and unconstitutional torture in custody, said the statement.
Signatories also demanded that the government must stop suppressing students, academics, journalists and human rights activists immediately, release all who have been arbitrarily detained and take necessary steps to ensure road safety, freedom of speech, freedom of movement and freedom of association for all, without discrimination.
The signatories include Dr Hameeda Hossain, Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, Shaheen Anam, Barrister Raja Devashish Roy, Dr Iftekhar Zaman, and Dr Badiul Alam Majumdar.
Four hundred and thirty-eight artists, photojournalists, filmmakers, writers and journalists from India also demanded “immediate, unconditional and honourable” release of Shahidul Alam.
“Legitimate criticism of, and disagreement with government action is the inalienable right of every citizen in a democracy, and if that is what Shahidul Alam is being prosecuted for, then it is a worrying sign that the state in Bangladesh is slipping towards autocracy,” their statement said.
The Editors Guild of India, in a statement, said that it is “pained and agitated” to learn of the detention of Alam in Dhaka under the provision of the ICT Act.