Fifty-two eminent citizens, including educationists, human rights activists and artists, yesterday demanded immediate release of acclaimed photographer Shahidul Alam.
They also demanded cancellation of all sections of laws, including section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, which are in contradiction to civil rights.
Signed by rights activist Khushi Kabir on behalf of the eminent citizens, the statement said Shahidul has been behind bars for more than 40 days.
“With grave concern, we are observing that he [Shahidul] is being deprived of his legal rights,” the statement said, adding that though government high-ups have assured of scrapping section 57 of the very ICT Act on several occasions, the photographer was sent to jail under the section.
“The use of such a section, which is still under evaluation, to harass citizens, including Shahidul Alam, is inconsistent with democratic values and the spirit of the Liberation War of Bangladesh,” it said.
Shahidul is a citizen of Bangladesh and has the constitutional right to get justice. “But it is a matter of grief that an exceptional and bad instance has been created by depriving him of bail, a minimum right, which has shocked and worried us,” the citizens said in the statement.
In a democratic country and society, any citizen can criticise the government and it is protected by the constitution.
“But we're observing that criticism of the government is being considered to be anti-state activity. Freedom of citizens and their rights are being trampled using state-run organisations and misusing section 57 of the ICT Act.
“We believe the citizens, who have expressed solidarity and supported the student movement on quota reforms and road safety, and criticised the use of state force against the protesters, have not done anything wrong … it is not appropriate to consider such criticism anti-state or anti-government.”
The 52 eminent citizens include Professor Emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury, Prof Ajoy Roy, Hameeda Hossain, Sultana Kamal, Shaheen Anam, Meghna Guhathakurta, Shamsul Huda, Prof AN Rasheda, Prof Anu Muhammad and Associate Prof Tanjim Uddin Khan.
Earlier, many notable personalities, including Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and 11 other Nobel prize winners, have called for immediate release of Shahidul.
SHAHIDUL AGAIN SEEKS BAIL
Shahidul again filed a petition with the High Court yesterday seeking bail in a case for “spreading propaganda against the government”.
Shahidul, 63, now in Dhaka Central Jail in the case lodged under the controversial section 57 of the ICT act, submitted the application to the HC through his lawyers, saying he is ill and he will not leave the country if he is granted bail.
In the petition, he also said the allegations brought against him in the case do not fall under section 57.
Jyotirmoy Barua, a lawyer for Shahidul, told this newspaper that the HC may hear the bail petition today.
On September 10, Shahidul's lawyers moved another petition before the HC for his bail in the case filed by the police with Ramna Police Station on August 6.
After hearing the appeal, the HC bench of Justice Md Rezaul Haque and Justice Abu Taher Md Saifur Rahman the same day directed the lower court concerned to dispose of the bail application by September 11.
The court concerned rejected the petition on September 11.
Shahidul, also founder of Drik Picture Library, was picked up by plainclothes men from his home in the capital's Dhanmondi on August 5. Police filed the case against him and produced him before a Dhaka court the following day. He was then placed on a seven-day remand.
In court, Shahidul said he was tortured in custody. Police denied the allegation.
On completion of his remand, Shahidul was denied bail and sent to jail by a Dhaka court on August 13.
On September 4, a judge of another HC bench felt “embarrassed” to hear Shahidul's bail petition in the case, and the bench forwarded the appeal to the chief justice for a decision. The bench, however, did not disclose any reason for it.