Remembering the women who pay the ultimate price for freedom

Today is International Women’s Day. It’s a day that inspires huge optimism in me. A day that reminds me of the extraordinary ability of women to lead, to challenge and to win – in spite of the odds, which in some countries can seem insurmountable.

But is it also important that we recognise a stark reality on IWD – this day cannot be truly marked without acknowledging the suffering and sacrifice endured by female dissidents worldwide in their relentless pursuit of freedom of expression.

While International Women’s Day traditionally serves as a platform to honour the achievements and progress of women, there is a responsibility on us to shine a spotlight on those whose voices have been silenced, whose courage has been met with oppression, and whose sacrifices have been monumental in the fight for justice and equality.

The stories of these brave women, from every corner of the globe, are not just anecdotes – they are testaments to the enduring struggle for fundamental human rights.

In the past twelve months alone, we have witnessed a staggering number of brave women who dared to challenge the status quo, only to meet untimely and tragic ends. Their names may not echo through the halls of power, but their legacies will forever reverberate in the annals of history.

Halima Idris Salim, Mossamat Sahara, Farah Omar, Vivian Silver, Ángela León, Olga Nazarenko, Maria Bernadete Pacífico, Armita Geravand, Tinashe Chitsunge, Samantha Gómez Fonseca, Rose Mugarurirwe, Heba Suhaib Haj Arif, Ludivia Galindez, Bahjaa Abdelaa Abdelaa, Teresa Magueyal – these are not just names on a list. They are beacons of courage, symbols of resistance in the face of tyranny and oppression.

From Sudan to Bangladesh, Lebanon to Canada, these women hailed from different corners of the globe, united by a common cause: the pursuit of justice. Whether they were journalists, activists, or ordinary citizens, they refused to be silenced. They refused to cower in the face of adversity.

In authoritarian regimes, the price of dissent is often paid in blood. Every day, countless women are harassed, detained, and murdered for daring to speak out against injustice.

Their names may never make headlines, but their sacrifices will not be forgotten. On International Women’s Day, let us heed the theme of Inspire Inclusion and draw inspiration from these courageous women. Let us honour their memory by continuing their fight for a world where freedom of expression is not just a privilege, but a fundamental human right.

We need to remember that the courage and sacrifice of women dissidents cannot be relegated to a single day of recognition. Their stories must remain forefront in our minds every day. We must commit to amplifying their voices, advocating for their rights, and standing in solidarity with them against oppression. Their fight is ongoing, and it is our responsibility to ensure that they are never forgotten.

Bangladesh must immediately and unconditionally release Shahidul Alam

[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]

Bangladesh: Shahidul Alam should be released and the allegations against him dropped


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

Nijera Kori

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

Steps Towards Development

Transparency International, Bangladesh (TIB)

Nagorik Uddyog

Open Society Foundations Program on Independent Journalism

Jagriti Prokashoni[/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:1533911170502-46b50a00-93a8-2″ taxonomies=”99″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Contents: The big squeeze

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Contributors include Richard Sambrook, Dominic Grieve, Roger Law, Karim Miské, Mark Frary and Canan Coşkun”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]

The spring issue of Index on Censorship magazine looks at how pressures on free speech are currently coming from many different angles, not just one. Richard Sambrook, former director of global news at the BBC, shows how journalists are in a bind, caught between what advertisers want and what readers want. Also looking at journalists, Duncan Tucker casts his eye on the grave situation in Mexico, where getting to the truth involves working against the government, violent cartels and even coworkers.

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Meanwhile, in the Maldives Zaheena Rasheed shows how a mix of forces conspire against those who want to write anything beyond the usual tourist sale pitch.

But the squeezes on free expression don’t just concern journalists. Annemarie Luck reports from Japan, where penis festivals are popular, but women struggle to discuss their own bodies. Can they find a voice through art and manga? For musician Smockey from Burkina Faso, art should indeed be a way to confront truth and yet that’s not always the case. Expectations run high for him to not be “too political” in his lyrics.

Universities, normally the cradle of free expression, aren’t faring too well either, as two articles show. Jan Fox reports from the USA, where bias response teams are becoming a staple of US collegiate life. In South Africa Fees Must Fall has created a divide between right and left, writes Natasha Joseph, with neither side talking to each other and those in the middle being silenced altogether.

Outside of our special report, Roger Law, creator of the iconic TV satire Spitting Image, talks about the great fun he had with the series back in the day and questions whether the show would be able to air today. Alfonso Lázaro de la Fuente might say no. He was one of the Spanish puppeteers arrested last year for a show that referenced Basque-separatist organisation ETA. In an Index exclusive, he explains what the charges have meant for his personal and professional life.

Want to know how to spot fake news? Then read Reel-time news in which Index’s team of experienced global reporters offer tips on how to spot fake news from a mile/screen away. And don’t miss Martin Rowson‘s fake o’clock news, a hilarious – and sinister – take on what a future of alternative facts would look like.

Index also publish an interview with Turkish journalist Canan Coşkun, whose coworkers are currently in jail, and a pair of writers discuss the situation of free speech in Poland, which is tumbling down global charts following the election of the Law and Justice party. And in the UK, former attorney general Dominic Grieve reveals that MPs are avoiding hard talk in parliament.

Finally, the culture section includes a short story from award-winning French writer Karim Miské and original work from Vyacheslav Huk, a Crimean novelist who is unable to publish work in his mother tongue.

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The Big Squeeze: Freedom of speech under pressure

Fact-filled future? by Rachael Jolley: Journalists need to step up, and produce more detailed news coverage. The public needs it

Between a rock and a hard place, by Duncan Tucker: Mexico’s journalists face threats from cartels, the government and each other

Reality rapped, by Smockey: An award-winning musician from Burkina Faso explains why he won’t water down his lyrics to avoid rocking the boat, despite pressure to do so

Talking a tightrope, by
 Kaya Genç: Despite the crackdown in Turkey, the post-Gezi spirit still survives among the determined

Taking the bait, by Richard Sambrook: The quest for instant gratification online is seriously compromising news reporting 

Dangerous minds, by Natasha Joseph: Rather than creating an alliance, Fees Must Fall is limiting free speech at South Africa’s universities, leaving some early supporters disheartened 

Japan’s Madonna complex, by Annemarie Luck: Japan’s contradictory attitudes include highly sexualised images of women and women not being allowed to talk about sex-related subjects

Squeezed in the closet, by Hannah Leung: Get married and be quiet are the messages China’s LGBT community is given 

Degrees of separation, by Jan Fox: The author investigates units appearing on US campuses suggesting students should report lecturers who they feel are biased

Dying to tell a story, by Sadaf Saaz: The list of what Bangladesh writers cannot talk about is getting longer, but that isn’t stopping some from writing

Trouble in paradise, by Zaheena Rasheed: Behind the image of palm-lined beaches is a side of the Maldives the government doesn’t want you to see

Your cover is shown, by Mark Frary: Tech giants and governments are out to get your data. Soon it might be impossible to remain anonymous 

Stripsearch cartoon, by Martin Rowson: Tune in to the fake o’clock news

Composing battle lines, by Steven Borowiec: Why have South Korean pop stars found themselves caught in crossfire between their country and China?

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We have no time for fear, by Canan Coşkun: A Turkish journalist on the perils of reporting in her country when fellow reporters are imprisoned 

Reel-time news, by Natasha Joseph, Kaya Genç, Jemimah Steinfeld, Duncan Tucker, Abraham T Zere, Raymond Joseph: As “fake news” dominates headlines, Index’s global team of experienced journalists offers tips on how to spot falsehoods before you click and share

Singing from the same hymn sheet, by Suhrith Parthasarathy: Rising Indian nationalism is creating a repressive state where non-conformity is deemed unpatriotic  

Poland: Special Focus, by Wojciech Przybylski, Marcin Król: Poland has gone from free speech hero to villain almost overnight. Two writers discuss the shift and why history is being rewritten 

Shooting from the hip, by Irene Caselli: A new mayor in a Mexican border city believes he will make it less dangerous for journalists  

Silence in the house, by Dominic Grieve: The former UK attorney general says MPs are shying away from tough topics in parliament

Puppet masters, by Roger Law: The creator of iconic TV satire Spitting Image on whether we still have our sense of humour

Drawing the line, by John Power: Australia is debating free speech, one cartoon at a time. Cartoonist Bill Leak interviewed just before he died

Puppet state, by Alfonso Lázaro de la Fuente: A Spanish puppeteer, arrested after terrorism charges related to a show, discusses the impact on his life

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”CULTURE” css=”.vc_custom_1481731777861{margin-right: 0px !important;margin-left: 0px !important;border-bottom-width: 1px !important;padding-top: 15px !important;padding-bottom: 15px !important;border-bottom-color: #455560 !important;border-bottom-style: solid !important;}”][vc_column_text]

Novel take on terror, by
 Karim Miské: The award-winning crime writer on why fiction and reality overlap. Plus his short story featuring a future where tech rules supreme. Interview by Sally Gimson

The war of the words, by Amira Hanafi: Translated extracts from an American-Egyptian writer’s project to capture the shifting linguistic landscape in Egypt since 2011. Interview by Sally Gimson

Crimean closedown, by Vyacheslav Huk: The Crimean novelist on being unable to publish in his mother tongue and a story of the narrator’s memories. Introduced and translated by Steve Komarnyckyj

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Index around the world, by
 Kieran Etoria-King: What to look out for at Index’s Freedom of Expression Awards 2017, alongside news of other projects that Index has been working on in the last few months 

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”END NOTE” css=”.vc_custom_1481880278935{margin-right: 0px !important;margin-left: 0px !important;border-bottom-width: 1px !important;padding-top: 15px !important;padding-bottom: 15px !important;border-bottom-color: #455560 !important;border-bottom-style: solid !important;}”][vc_column_text]

Getting print out, by Jemimah Steinfeld: Self-publishing may be a new solution to censorship in China and other countries 

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”SUBSCRIBE” css=”.vc_custom_1481736449684{margin-right: 0px !important;margin-left: 0px !important;border-bottom-width: 1px !important;padding-bottom: 15px !important;border-bottom-color: #455560 !important;border-bottom-style: solid !important;}”][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship magazine was started in 1972 and remains the only global magazine dedicated to free expression. Past contributors include Samuel Beckett, Gabriel García Marquéz, Nadine Gordimer, Arthur Miller, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, and many more.[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”76572″ img_size=”full”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]In print or online. Order a print edition 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.

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