[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”102127″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]We, the undersigned hereby call for the immediate and unconditional release of the renowned photographer, artist, teacher, curator and human rights activist Shahidul Alam.
Dr Alam was arrested on 5 August 2018 by around 30-35 members of the detective branch of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police who dragged him away by force. Alam’s crime, we are told, is to have contravened the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act. Described as “draconian” by Human Rights Watch, the act has become an infamous means of clamping down on freedom of expression in Bangladesh.
Dr Alam has been accused of hurting “the image of the nation” through comments he made on social media and in an interview with Al Jazeera in which he was critical of the Bangladesh government. His observations were triggered by violence he witnessed towards students who gathered to protest in Dhaka after two of their number were killed by a speeding bus.
Given that Bangladesh presents itself as a democracy, the state should respect the right of Dr Alam, and all other citizens, to freedom of expression. Instead, he has suffered inhumane treatment at the hands of the police and judicial system.
The morning after his arrest, 6 August 2018, he was produced in court. Film footage shows police dragging him by his arms. He is barefoot, limping and struggling to walk. Both the film and reports from his lawyers who later met
with him in custody leave no doubt that he has been tortured. During his court appearance, he shouted to observers that he had been assaulted, forced to wear the same clothes after the blood had been washed from them, and
threatened with further violence if he didn’t testify as directed.
The court returned him to police custody ostensibly on a 7-day remand.
However, the day before he was officially due back in court, the judge sent him to prison. Neither Alam nor his lawyer was present at this hearing. His lawyer was not even informed that it was taking place.
Now he is being held in the Keraniganj Central Jail in Dhaka where conditions are extremely poor. After visiting him, his partner Rahnuma Ahmed called for medical attention as he was suffering from respiratory complications, problems with eyesight, and pain in his jaw. None of these symptoms were present before his arrest.
The brutal incarceration of Dr Alam is rooted in broader political repression. In recent years, Bangladesh has seen hundreds of citizens, including writers, intellectuals, lawyers and activists imprisoned and murdered. According to a
2017 report by Human Rights Watch, at least 320 citizens have been “disappeared” since the Awami League government came to power in 2009.
This situation has occurred despite the League’s pre-election pledge to react to human rights violations with zero tolerance. Dr Alam’s entire career has been devoted to combatting abuse of power. As a curator, artist and photographer, he has used images as the vehicle for decades of fearless truth-telling about subjects that include the genocide of the 1971 War of Liberation, the employment of state death squads and the plight of the Rohingya refugees. As the founder of picture agencies Drik and Majority World, and the photography school, Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, Dr Alam has also pioneered the wider practice of photo reportage in the region.
Little wonder he is admired throughout the world. In Britain, he has forged strong connections both through the presence of close family and through exhibitions at institutions including Tate Modern, the Whitechapel Gallery,
Autograph ABP, the Willmotte Gallery and Rich Mix. He has also run workshops, courses and other educational activities for young photographers in the British-Bengali community and beyond.
We now add our voices to the hundreds of others, from Nobel Laureates to Dr Alam’s own photography students, who in the last weeks have called for his immediate and unconditional release.
We also urge the Bangladesh government to respect the right to freedom of speech and expression for all citizens and to release all other prisoners detained on similar grounds.
1. Abu Jafar (Artist)
2. Alessio Antoniolli (Director, Gasworks & Triangle Network)
3. Anne McNeill (Director, Impressions Gallery, Bradford)
4. Anish Kapoor (Artist)
5. Akram Khan (Choreographer and Dancer)
6. Antony Gormley (Artist)
7. Assemble (art, architecture and design collective)
8. Ben Okri (Poet and Novelist)
9. Brett Rogers (Director, The Photographers’ Gallery)
10.Chantal Joffe (Artist)
11. Charlie Brooker (Writer and Producer)
12.David Sanderson (Arts Correspondent, The Times)
13.Fiona Bradley (Director, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh)
14.Frances Morris (Director, Tate)
15.Hans Ulrich Obrist (Artistic director, Serpentine Gallery)
16.Helen Cammock (Artist)
17.Iwona Blazwick (Director, Whitechapel Gallery)
18.Jodie Ginsberg (CEO Index on Censorship)
19.Joe Scotland (Director, Studio Voltaire, London)
20.John Akomfrah (Artist)
21.Sir John Leighton (Director, National Galleries of Scotland)
22.Jonathan Watkins (Director, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham)
23.Konnie Huq (Writer and Broadcaster)
24.Louisa Buck (The Art Newspaper)
25.Lubaina Himid (Artist)
26.Mahtab Hussain (Photographer)
27.Dr Mark Sealy MBE (Director of Autograph ABP)
28.Mark Wallinger (Artist)
29.Martin Parr (Photographer and Photojournalist)
30.Michael Landy (Artist)
31.Michael Mack (Founder of publisher MACK)
32.Nadav Kander (Artist)
33.Neel Mukherjee (Writer)
34.Nicholas Cullinan (Director, National Portrait Gallery)
35.Nick Serota (Chair of Arts Council England)
36.Olivia Laing (Writer)
37.Pippa Oldfield (Impressions Gallery, Bradford)
38.Polly Staple (Director Chisenhale Gallery)
39.Rachel Spence (Poet and Arts Writer, Financial Times)
40.Rana Begum (Artist)
41.Rasheed Araeen (Artist)
42.Sally Tallant (Director, Liverpool Biennial)
43.Sarah Munro (Director Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art)
44.Sophie Wright (Global Cultural Director, Magnum Photos)
45.Steve McQueen (artist and film director)
46.Sunil Gupta (Photographer)
47.Teresa Gleadow (Curator, Writer and Editor)
48.Vicken Parsons (Artist)
49.Dr. Ziba Ardalan (Founder/ Director Parasol unit, London)[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1536055987310-fa96858b-d48c-8″ taxonomies=”6534″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
On 6 August 2018, Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam was arrested and detained for allegedly “making provocative comments”, and “giving false information” to media, contrary to the Information Communications Technology Act (ICT Act). He remains in detention. Since being taken into custody, Alam has been denied access to his lawyers, and was reportedly beaten and is in poor health. Authorities initially agreed that Alam would be taken to hospital for medical assistance, but after a brief visit on 8 August he has been returned to detention. We, the undersigned civil society organisations, call for Shahidul Alam’s immediate and unconditional release, that all allegations against him be dropped, and that he receive proper medical care.
63-year old Alam was arrested at his home in Dhaka on the evening of 5 August 2018 and brought into police custody a few hours after he posted a video on Facebook and participated in an interview with Al Jazeera about the ongoing road safety protests in Dhaka, where more than 40 journalists and media workers have been injured by groups of armed men.
Alam is accused of violations under Section 57 of the Information Communications Technology Act. However, journalists and rights activists have consistently raised concerns that the law is incompatible with international human rights standards, including Bangladesh’s international obligations under Article 19 of the ICCPR, due to its broad powers to restrict online expression. It has been widely applied against journalists and ordinary citizens who have been arrested, prosecuted and jailed solely for their expression.
On 9 August, a petition by Alam’s lawyers was heard at the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh demanding they have access to Alam, that he be brought before the court and seeking a court order that he is not subjected to ill-treatment while in custody. The High Court ordered the Home Secretary of the Government of Bangladesh to “arrange medical treatment” for Alam in accordance with Section 2(6) of the Torture and Custodial Death Prevention Act 2013, to make a full medical assessment for ill-treatment, and to report to the court by 13 August 2018.
ARTICLE 19 and the undersigned national and international human rights organisations call for Shahidul Alam’s immediate and unconditional release, and that all allegations against him be dropped as they represent a blatant violation of his right to freedom of expression. We further urge the Ministry of Home Affairs to immediately comply with the court’s order and grant Alam proper medical assistance without delay.
We remain deeply concerned by the use of laws such as the ICT Act in Bangladesh to legally harass journalists and media workers and violate the right to freedom of expression, and call for its urgent repeal.
Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK)
Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF)
Bandhu Social Welfare Society (BSWF)
Bangladesh Adivasi Forum
Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movements (BDERM)
Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC)
Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
German Section of Amnesty International
Sramik Nirapotta Forum (SNF)
Boys of Bangladesh (BOB)
Friends Association for Integrated Revolution (FAIR)
International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
Index on Censorship
Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF)
National Alliance of Disabled Peoples Organizations
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Steps Towards Development
Transparency International, Bangladesh (TIB)
Open Society Foundations Program on Independent Journalism
This article is from the autumn issue of Index on Censorship magazine, which focuses on anonymity.
I have a name. I am not anonymous. But what if I didn’t have a name? What if I could enjoy the luxury of being safe at home in Bangladesh, and not far away in Germany?
I could have distanced myself from my identity, adopted a pseudonym and continued to write in Bangladesh. Had I done so, my family wouldn’t have to spend each moment in fear and anxiety. My sister wouldn’t have to wake up from nightmares about rape threats. But I am not anonymous. I carry my name and history with me. And so the possibility of an unnatural death haunts me.
Since 2013, my name has surfaced on multiple “hit lists” targeting Bangladeshi bloggers and other activists. I still regularly receive death threats from religious extremists on Facebook and other social media. One simply told me, “It’s your turn now.”
My words often create problems for others. I see myself as writing for the freedom of various groups, for the rights of oppressed communities, for women, for the sexually marginalised. In my debut book Chastity Versus Polygamy, I addressed the patriarchal notion of purity that is assigned to women’s sexuality; this was considered controversial and it enraged many.
I strongly believe that all human beings possess an equal right to express themselves, to assert their ideas and to be recognised for who they are and what they want to be. When the identity of the writer is out in the open, along with a certain level of insecurity comes a burden of responsibility that commits the writer to his or her words. This is why anonymity never appealed to me. I had faith in the democratic setup of my country, Bangladesh. But the state failed to uphold our freedom by suggesting we should stop writing, rather than that terrorism should stop. So I left.
Anonymous bloggers and activists in Bangladesh come from all parts of the ideological spectrum. They include religious radicals, communists, liberals. Unfortunately, certain sections of this anonymous community aim to create chaos, rather than a constructive democratic debate. A number of them publish hate speech, or post videos which are meant to incite violence.
Generally, however, the bloggers are on the receiving end of aggression. Sometimes, even anonymity is no protection. Those who would silence them are often incredibly adept at technological espionage, and can all too easily crack their identities. In March 2015, anonymous atheist blogger Washiqur Rahman Babu was traced and killed in broad daylight outside his residence. Even I didn’t know his identity at the time.
In the face of threats, therefore, going anonymous is hardly a foolproof solution. However, it may not always be feasible to declare one’s identity under dire circumstances, which is the case in many places across the world right now. Anonymity might turn to be one of the necessary shields in the larger, longer battle for free speech.
This article is from the autumn issue of Index on Censorship magazine.
Ananya Azad, a Bangladeshi writer and blogger, is currently in exile in Germany. His father, author Humayun Azad, was the victim of assassination attempts, and later died in mysterious circumstances.
You can order your copy of the latest issue here, or take out a digital subscription via Exact Editions. Copies are also available at the BFI, the Serpentine Gallery, MagCulture, (London), News from Nowhere (Liverpool), Home (Manchester), Calton Books (Glasgow) and on Amazon. Each magazine sale helps Index on Censorship continue its fight for free expression worldwide.
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”From the Archives”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”91922″ img_size=”213×289″ alignment=”center” onclick=”custom_link” link=”http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/030642208701600613″][vc_custom_heading text=”Testimony of an ex-censor” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left” link=”url:http%3A%2F%2Fjournals.sagepub.com%2Fdoi%2Fpdf%2F10.1177%2F030642208701600613|||”][vc_column_text]June 1987
Once a censor in the Syrian Ministry of Information, the anonymous source details the invasion of privacy and censorship the government employs.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”80637″ img_size=”213×289″ alignment=”center” onclick=”custom_link” link=”http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0306422015591456″][vc_custom_heading text=”Blogging in Bangladesh” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left” link=”url:http%3A%2F%2Fjournals.sagepub.com%2Fdoi%2Fpdf%2F10.1177%2F0306422015591456|||”][vc_column_text]June 2015
A series of murders of secular bloggers by religious fundamentalists in has presented clear warnings for bloggers to watch what they say.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”89164″ img_size=”213×289″ alignment=”center” onclick=”custom_link” link=”http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0306422010362466″][vc_custom_heading text=”Egyptian gate to freedom” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left” link=”url:http%3A%2F%2Fjournals.sagepub.com%2Fdoi%2Fpdf%2F10.1177%2F0306422010362466|||”][vc_column_text]March 2010
Mohamed Khaled reports that the Egyptian government continues to harass bloggers, but they’ve become a vital source of information even for the state media. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”The unnamed” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left” link=”url:%20https%3A%2F%2Fwww.indexoncensorship.org%2F2017%2F09%2Ffree-to-air%2F|||”][vc_column_text]The autumn 2016 Index on Censorship magazine explores topics on anonymity through a range of in-depth features, interviews and illustrations from around the world.
With: Valerie Plame Wilson, Ananya Azad, Hilary Mantel[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”80570″ img_size=”medium” alignment=”center” onclick=”custom_link” link=”https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2016/11/the-unnamed/”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Subscribe” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left” link=”url:https%3A%2F%2Fwww.indexoncensorship.org%2Fsubscribe%2F|||”][vc_column_text]In print, online. In your mailbox, on your iPad.
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Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs
Government of Bangladesh
Bangladesh Secretariat, Building No. 4 (7th Floor) Dhaka-100
4 August 2016
Dear Mr Huq,
We are writing to you as international press freedom, freedom of expression and media advocacy groups about the ongoing detention of Shafik Rehman, an elderly journalist in custody in Dhaka, to set out several serious concerns about his treatment.
We were pleased to note that on Sunday 17 July 2016 the Supreme Court granted Mr Rehman’s request for leave to appeal his detention.
Detention without charge
Mr Rehman was arrested on 16 April 2016 and denied bail by the High Court on 7 June 2016. After more than three months in detention, he has still not been charged with any crime.
He is being investigated by the Bangladesh Detective Branch, who entered his house without a warrant, inexplicably posing as a camera crew, on the day of his arrest.
The detectives missed a deadline on 16 June 2016 to submit a report to Metropolitan Magistrate SM Masud Zaman in Dhaka outlining the alleged case against Mr Rehman. The court extended the deadline until 26 July 2016, despite the fact that the First Information Report in this case was initially filed in August 2015 and the investigation period in the case has expired. On 26 July 2016, the police once again missed the deadline to submit their investigation report and a further deadline has now been set for 30 August 2016 – more than 100 days after his arrest.
Under international law, the Bangladesh authorities have a duty to promptly inform Mr Rehman of the nature of the case against him and either charge or release him. The delays in this case suggest that there is no evidence against Mr Rehman, and that he should be released.
Mr Rehman is a professional journalist who has spent a lifetime working for freedom of expression. We are concerned that his arrest represents an attack on press freedoms and forms part of a worrying trend in Bangladesh. At the time of his arrest, Mr Rehman was editor of the popular monthly magazine Mouchake Dhil, with experience as a TV host and producer. Previously, he has worked for the BBC and edited Jai Jai Din, a mass- circulation Bengali daily.
The arrest of journalists like Mr Rehman raises concerns about the state of press freedoms in Bangladesh, where several prominent editors have been arrested in recent years.
Mr Rehman is an elderly man in poor health. He spent the first weeks of detention in solitary confinement, without a bed. His health deteriorated and he was rushed to hospital.
His family are seriously concerned about his health failing in prison, and he has missed important medical appointments while on remand.
There are therefore strong compassionate grounds for releasing Mr Rehman on bail, while any evidence (if there is any at all) can be gathered without jeopardising his health.
We hope that Mr Rehman’s appeal will be an opportunity for the Court to take stock of the serious concerns about the case against Mr Rehman and about his health and well-being while he remains in custody.
We appreciate you hearing our concerns and are grateful for swift action to guarantee Mr Rehman’s prompt release.
Reprieve | Index on Censorship | International Federation of Journalists | Reporters Without Borders | Adil Soz – International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech | Afghanistan Journalists Center | Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain | Bahrain Center for Human Rights | Canadian Journalists for Free Expression | Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility | Foro de Periodismo Argentino | Free Media Movement | Independent Journalism Center – Moldova | Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information | International Press Institute | Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance | Media Foundation for West Africa | National Union of Somali Journalists | Norwegian PEN | Pacific Freedom Forum | Pacific Islands News Association | Pakistan Press Foundation | Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms – MADA | PEN American Center | Public Association “Journalists” | Vigilance pour la Démocratie et l’État Civique
Via post to:
High Commission for the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
28 Queen’s Gate