Ten Nobel laureates and 13 eminent personalities from across the world have urged immediate and unconditional release of acclaimed photographer Shahidul Alam and the students arrested after the recent street protests in Bangladesh.
They also urged the government to investigate allegations of Alam's unlawful arrest and take every step to ensure rights of all citizens.
“We the undersigned raise our joint voice against arbitrary police remand under the draconian ICT Act against Dr Shahidul Alam,” they said in a statement yesterday.
The statement came following protests and outrage across the country early this month over the deaths of two students crushed by a bus. The protesters demanded their right to road safety, rule of law and justice.
Quoting media reports, the signatories said young protesters, journalists and photographers came under attack by members of the student and youth wings of the ruling party in presence of police.
When university students after a few days showed solidarity with the high school students, they were arrested in connection with various cases that might involve prison sentences and subject them to police remand, which is associated with torture and indignities, the statement read.
Shahidul Alam was unlawfully picked up from his residence on August 5 by law enforcers without a warrant of arrest. He was hauled before a court last week where the Detective Branch submitted a prayer for 10 days' remand without presence of or access to a lawyer, it added.
The court granted seven days' remand in a case filed against him under section 57 of the ICT Act 2006, which is widely accepted as a draconian law.
“As he was being carried into the courtroom, according to press reports he said to journalists present, 'I was hit. They washed my blood-stained clothes and then made me wear them again. I was not given access to any lawyer during detention',” the statement said.
The signatories said Shahidul's alleged crime was taking photographs of the brutal attacks on peacefully protesting students and exercising his freedom of opinion in an interview with an international television channel.
Shahidul Alam has been sent to prison on August 12 abruptly and without presence of his lawyer, it read.
Numerous innocent students are being subjected to torture in police custody while on remand, whereas those allegedly responsible for imposing violence upon a peaceful movement of the young students are enjoying impunity, the statement said.
“We also urge that the government immediately release all students who have been arrested after the protest and take every step to ensure human rights of all citizens, including freedom of speech, freedom of media and freedom of association for all.”
The signatories to the statement are: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize laureate; Tawakkol Karman, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate; Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams, 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureates; Oscar Arias, 1987 Nobel Peace Prize laureate; Sir Richard J Roberts, 1993 Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine; Jose Ramos-Horta, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize laureate; Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel Peace Prize laureate; Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize laureate; and Prof Dr Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
The eminent personalities who signed the statement include Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway; Sir Richard Branson, business leader and philanthropist; Richard Curtis, film director; Sharon Stone, actress and human rights activist; Mo Ibrahim, entrepreneur and philanthropist; David Jones, global social activist; Jerome Jarre, entrepreneur and internet activist; Kerry Kennedy, rights activist; Alaa Murabit, of Voice of Libyan Women; Marina Mahathir, writer and rights activist; Ella Robertson, global youth movement leader; Kate Robertson, global social activist; and Jimmy Wales, internet entrepreneur.