Case of Shahidul Alam is being used in Bangladesh to suppress criticism by civil rights activists

Chobi Mela VIII

Arundhati Roy, Aparna Sen, Vikram Seth, Romila Thapar, Amitav Ghosh, Shabhana Azmi, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Nandita Das, Mohammad Hanif, Anish Kapoor among other eminent persons from across South Asia have come together to write a letter to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed demanding the immediate release of acclaimed photographer and cultural activist Shahidul Alam on the 100th day of his detention. 

Alam was forcefully taken from his home on 5th August and has been held at Dhaka Central Jail for the last 100 days. He is accused of ‘hurting the image of the nation’ while reporting on protests by young students demanding road safety. He has been denied bail 5 times.

The signatories say that the case of Shahidul Alam is being used as a means to “suppress criticism by others in civil society. His arrest and continued detention appear to be manifestation of an intolerant political atmosphere, an attempt to threaten and silence the voice of Bangladeshi citizens.”

The letter comes on the 100th Day of Shahidul Alam’s imprisonment.

Text of letter:

As well-wishers of Bangladesh and supporters of its 166 million citizens’ struggle for dignity, social justice and prosperity, we are distressed by the continued imprisonment of photographer and cultural activist Shahidul Alam. Since the founding of the nation in 1971, the people of Bangladesh have led by example, fighting poverty, ending social injustices and being standard-bearers of participatory development.

This advance has been made possible by the democratic spirit of the people, who have challenged military rulers and autocrats alike. As well-wishers of Bangladesh, we fear that these gains are in danger due to the rising political intolerance and denial of fundamental freedoms.

Shahidul Alam is a Bangladeshi citizen, but the rest of us in South Asia are also proud to call him our own, for the values of truth, justice and social equality he promotes. His work and activism are respected all over our region and beyond, with innumerable friends who admire his concern for the voiceless and marginalised. One example is his latest work highlighting the tragedy of the Rohingya people, who have been given refuge in Bangladesh by your Government.

Since Shahidul Alam was forcefully taken from his home on the 5th of August, he was remanded first in Detective Branch custody for seven days and, then held at Dhaka Central Jail at Keraniganj. He is accused of ‘hurting the image of the nation’ while reporting on protests by young students demanding road safety.

It is clear to us that the case of Shahidul Alam is being used as a means to suppress criticism by others in civil society. His arrest and continued detention appear to be manifestation of an intolerant political atmosphere, an attempt to threaten and silence the voice of Bangladeshi citizens. With the country preparing for general elections, this is a time when there should be more space for debate and discussion, not less.

As believers in the rule of law, we are shocked to learn that government lawyers continue to oppose Shahidul Alam’s release on bail using various stratagems and delays intended to deprive him of his fundamental rights to liberty and due process. Across South Asia, politicians and citizens have fought for the right to speak, and to write, and it is astonishing to us that a government today, especially one which seeks to harness technology for progress, should choose to use a law to proscribe online speech to jail a citizen.

Prime Minister, we the undersigned urge you to ensure the release of Shahidul Alam on this, the 100th day of his detention. We look forward to Bangladesh retaining its place as an exemplar of participatory democracy in South Asia.

Signatories:

  1. Akram Khan, London
  2. Amar Kanwar, New Delhi
  3. Amitav Ghosh, Goa
  4. Anish Kapoor, London
  5. Aparna Sen, Kolkata
  6. Arundhati Roy, New Delhi
  7. Ashok Vajpeyi, New Delhi
  8. Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Kolkata
  9. Dayanita Singh, New Delhi
  10. Ina Puri, Kolkata
  11. Jayadeva Uyangoda, Colombo
  12. Kanak Mani Dixit, Kathmandu
  13. Laila Tyabji, New Delhi
  14. Manjushree Thapa, Toronto
  15. Mohammed Hanif, Karachi
  16. Moushumi Bhowmik, Kolkata
  17. Nandita Das, Kolkata
  18. Nimalka Fernando, Colombo
  19. Patricia Mukhim, Shillong
  20. Pooja Sood, New Delhi
  21. Rachana Singh, New Delhi
  22. Raghu Rai, New Delhi
  23. Rajdeep Sardesai, New Delhi
  24. Ramchandra Guha, Bangalore
  25. Romila Thapar, New Delhi
  26. Salima Hashmi, Lahore
  27. Sanjay Kak, New Delhi
  28. Sanjoy Hazarika, Shillong
  29. Sankha Ghosh, Kolkata
  30. Shabana Azmi, Mumbai
  31. Sushila Karki, Kathmandu
  32. Vijay Prashad, New Delhi
  33. Vikram Seth, New Delhi
  34. Vrinda Grover, New Delhi

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