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Bangladeshi Photographer Arrested after Criticizing Government's Handling of Protests

DHAKA, BANGLADESH—Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam was arrested by around twenty plainclothes policemen just hours after he gave an interview to Al Jazeera via Skype from his home in Dhaka on Sunday, August 6. The sixty-three-year old was officially charged with making “provocative comments” about the government’s handling of recent protests that have gripped the country for more than a week.

According to Time, Alam accused the police of enlisting “armed goons” from the Chhatra League, the governing body Awami League’s youth wing, to attack unarmed students. The actions, which started on July 29, originally erupted over dangerous road conditions and the death of two students who were killed by a speeding bus, but soon grew into a rally against the corruption of the Awami League, one of the two major political parties in Bangladesh.

After more than 100 people were injured after the authorities fired teargas and rubber bullets into the crowds of demonstrators over the weekend, Alam claimed that the government made a mistake. “It thought that fear and repression would be enough, but you cannot tame an entire nation in this manner,” he told Al Jazeera.

Alam was charged under section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information Communications Technology Act, which the government uses to punish political dissenters, and was seen limping after his arrest in a video circulating on social media, which has led people to believe he may have been beaten by authorities. 

According to Amnesty International, Alam may face a minimum of seven years and a maximun of fourteen years in jail for giving the interview. In a statement issued on August 7, the organization declares the ICT Act and its vaguely worded clauses empower the authorities to prosecute people in the interest of “sovereignty, integrity or security of Bangladesh.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists is demanding Alam’s release. “Authorities should also ensure that Alam and all journalists covering unrest in Dhaka are able to work without fear of attack or arrest,” said CPJ Asia program coordinator Steven Butler.

Alam is the founder of the Drik Library and the Pathshala South Asian Media Academy, a photography school in South Asia. He’s also one of the cofounders of Majority World, an agency that represents more than three hundred photographers from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.

News of the photographer’s arrest is the latest in a string of troubling incidents targeting journalists, writers, and professors speaking out about various issues in the country. In the days leading up to the protests the former newspaper editor Mahmudur Rahman was assaulted by the Chhatra League after he left a court in western Bangladesh, and in June, blogger Shahjahan Bachchu was attacked and killed by a group of masked men.

[Update:] 

Al Jazeera has reported that Alam’s wife is challengeing the leaglity of her husband’s arrest in court and is requesting that he receive medical treatment following the physical abuse he allegedly suffered while in police custody and that earlier today he was taken to the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Hospital.

Since Alam’s arrest more than four hundred photographers, filmmakers, and artists in India have demanded his “immediate, unconditional and honourable” release in a petition that calls his detainment a draconian act. The document reads: “Legitimate criticism of, and disagreement with Government action is the inalienable right of every citizen in a democracy, and if that is what Shahidul Alam is being prosecuted for then it is a worrying sign that the state in Bangladesh is slipping towards autocracy.”

August 9, 2018