A month before Bangladesh holds general elections, the government has released award-winning photographer and activist Shahidul Alam from jail. Alam has spent more than 100 days in jail after being arrested for making “false” and “provocative” statements on Al-Jazeera television channel and Facebook during the mass student protests that were held in the country’s capital city Dhaka.
Alam while speaking to Al-Jazeera during the student protests, said that the students on the streets were the result of pent-up anger at corruption and an “unelected government … clinging on by brute force”. He was arrested that same day along with many others as authorities cracked down on demonstrators who were protesting against lawlessness in the country after two teenagers were killed by a speeding bus.
Alam was released from Dhaka’s main jail late on Tuesday after being granted bail five days ago. Alam told AFP he hoped his release would “signal freedom for many others” also detained during the massive student demonstrations. “It is a fantastic feeling to be free in a free country, breathing free air. But I hope for freedom for everyone else,” he said.
Alam was arrested on 5 August under Section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT), which has increasingly been used against journalists, almost 20 of them related to news-reporting, according to Bangladeshi paper The Daily Star. He faces 14 years in jail if convicted.
The 63-year old photographer’s work has appeared widely in global media and he also founded the renowned Pathshala South Asian Media Institute. The awarded photographer’s arrest triggered international protests – with rights groups, Nobel laureates and academics calling for his release. Amnesty International has called for Bangladesh authorities to immediately drop charges against Alam and “uphold its international commitments to protect the right to freedom of expression”. “Shahidul Alam is a bold representation of Bangladesh through his lens. He should not have been detained at the first place,” said Saad Hammadi, Amnesty International’s regional campaigner.
Michelle Bachelet during her first statement as the UN high commissioner for human rights had raised the issue of attacks on journalists in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party are seeking a third consecutive term as the country goes to polls on December 30, 2018.