At 10pm on 05 August, photographer and social activist Shahidul Alam was arrested at his home in Dhaka. The next day he was charged for violating Section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT), after giving an interview to Al Jazeera on the current wave of student protests in Bangladesh against unsafe roads, in which he said that these actions stemmed from anger about widespread government corruption. He now faces up to 14 years in prison.
According to Amnesty International, which has taken up the photographer’s plight, Section 57 is a “draconian law” that has been used against well over 1000 people since it was introduced in 2006. “Police do not need arrest warrants or official permission to prosecute,” explains the organisation. “Those accused are mostly denied bail pending their trial and kept locked up for months with no official verdict. Shahidul himself was denied bail on 10 September 2018. Those arrested are often journalists who’ve published articles criticising the government.”
Amnesty describes Alam’s arrest as “a gross human rights abuse” – but adds that it is also concerned for the photographer’s safety. “He was unable to walk by himself when he appeared in court in August, and he told friends that he had been beaten up by the authorities,” the human rights organisation explains.
Amnesty is urging supporters to “help free Shahidul and end the crackdown on free speech in Bangladesh” by emailing Bangladesh’s Minister of Home Affairs via https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/free-shahidul-alam And now organisations across the UK are supporting this call by exhibiting one image each from an exhibition of Alam’s work recently shown in Dhaka, Bangladesh: A Struggle for Democracy – A Photo Journey by Shahidul Alam
The UK-wide action will take place from 08-28 October, and has been organised by the Northern Centre of Photography (University of Sunderland), Autograph (London), and Drik Picture Agency (Dhaka, Bangladesh). The spaces involved include: Autograph; Side Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne; Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool; Impressions Gallery, Bradford; The Photographers’ Gallery; Redeye: The Photography Network; Panos; New Art Exchange, Nottingham; Photo North Festival, Harrogate; FotoDocument; Nottingham Contemporary; Breeze Creatives, Newcastle upon Tyne; Pop Recs, Sunderland; Swadhinata Trust, London; Royal Photographic Society; Sunderland Culture, as well as universities such as London School of Economics and Political Science; Royal College of Art; Anglia Ruskin University; and University of Sunderland. Beyond the UK, festivals such as the Encontros da Imagem – International Photo Festival, Braga, Portugal are also involved.
Alam’s work is also going on show at the FIX festival in London, which will take place from 28 November-01 December. Organised by Laura Noble, the festival will also include exhibitions by many other photographers, including Chris Steele-Perkins, Chloe Rosser, and Robert Clayton.
Alam’s photographs have been published in almost every major media outlet over a more than four-decade career, and his book, My Journey as a Witness, was described as “the most important book ever written by a photographer” by John Morris, the former picture editor of Life magazine. His recent exhibition Crossfire, which was held at Drik Picture Library, was widely acclaimed but closed down by Bangladeshi police, leading to nationwide protests. Alam is a leading critic of the Bangladeshi government, its police and the role its army plays in political life.
Alam is the founder and managing director of Drik Picture Library; he is also the creator of the renowned Patshala South Asian Media Academy, a photography school in Dhaka that has trained hundreds of photographers, from Bangladesh. In addition he is director of Chobi Mela, a photography festival in Asia, and has served on the jury of numerous competitions, including World Press Photo, which he has helped judge four times, and for which he was the first Asian chair.
To add your voice to the campaign demanding Shahidul Alam’s immediate release, email your support for him to Bangladesh authorities via Amnesty International at https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/free-shahidul-alam, and use the #freeshahidulalam hashtag on social media https://autograph.org.uk/events/a-struggle-for-democracy