Award-winning photographer Shahidul Alam has spent over 100 days in jail, but – according to Reuters and several Bangladeshi newspapers – has finally been granted bail by the High Court this morning. “We’re delighted that ultimately the court has granted him bail,” said his lawyer Sarah Hossain in the Reuters’ report, adding she expected her client to be out soon.
The 63-year-old photographer and activist was arrested at his home in Dhaka on 05 August, and was charged the next day with 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 the interview, he stated that these actions stemmed from anger about widespread government corruption, and the charges mean he 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.
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 Pathshala 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