Shahidul Alam wins a Lucie Award

Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam has been given the Humanitarian Award at this year’s Lucie Awards. The award was given on 28 October in recognition of Alam’s prestigious career in photography and activism, which has seen him documenting the democratic struggle to remove Bangladeshi military dictator General Hussain Muhammad Ershad in 1984, publishing a celebrated book My journey as a witness, and taking the last official portrait of Nelson Mandela in 2009. In addition, Alam set up the award-winning Drik picture agency, the Chobi Mela festival, and the South Asian Media Institute.

Alam is currently in prison in Bangladesh, having been arrested on 05 August and charged with violating Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology Act. The Lucie Foundation joined the many international voices speaking out against his incarceration, which include Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and Index on Censorship.

A direct confrontation with the police in which bullets and batons were countered by stones from a thousand protestors. The police later used machine guns. Dhaka, Bangladesh. 10 November, 1987. Image © Shahidul Alam, courtesy Lucie Foundation

“He was arrested for merely speaking his opinion about the ongoing student protests taking place in Bangladesh,” stated the Lucie Foundation. “This is an egregious violation of rights, a dangerous precedent and a grave threat to journalists everywhere. Not only do we demand the immediate release of Shahidul, we stand as a united front against these kinds of attacks to journalism wherever they arise in the world.”

Alam’s arrest was sparked off by an interview he gave to Al Jazeera, discussing protests in Bangladesh which are demanding greater road safety and an end to government corruption. According to Bangladeshi newspaper New Age, the Bangladeshi High Court Division adjourned Shahidul Alam’s bail hearing on 29 October, directing the government to submit a transcript of the Al Jazeera interview and ignoring objections by Alam’s lawyers.

Alam’s bail petition has been pending with the High Court since 27 August; his lawyers objected the new adjournment on the grounds that the two days given to the attorney general was unnecessary, given that the Bangladeshi government regularly monitors all broadcasts and keeps all the transcripts. Lawyer Sara Hossain also arguing that a decision on Alam’s fate should be made as soon as possible, as he needs emergency medical treatment for his deteriorating health and diminishing eyesight.

Estemah, Tongi, Bangladesh, 1988. Image © Shahidul Alam, courtesy Lucie Foundation
Even before the flood waters have dried, the opulent wedding of the daughter of a powerful minister takes place. Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1988. Image © Shahidul Alam, courtesy Lucie Foundation
The night of 04 December, 1990, when the dictator agrees to step down. Jubilant people take to the streets. Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1990. Image © Shahidul Alam, courtesy Lucie Foundation
Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is the editor of BJP, returning for a second stint on staff in 2023 - after 15 years on the team until 2019. As a freelancer, she has written for The Guardian, FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, Aperture, FOAM, Aesthetica and Apollo. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy