Since Bangladeshi photojournalist, Shahidul Alam, was detained by authorities in early-August there has been a groundswell of public support pushing for his release. He has been known to be an outspoken critic of many aspects of the government of Bangladesh. Despite this tendency to speak out about what he sees as injustices and mis-steps among his nation, he considers himself a proud Bangladeshi. He has been held under the “Information and Technology Act” which prohibits publishing false claims through digital means. In addition to this detention there have been some reports that Alam has been subject to torture while being held.
A Human Rights Watch report stated that Bangladesh is in a complicated situation when it comes to human rights. It has been the destination for a large amount of the surge in displaced Rohingya Muslim refugees from neighbouring Myanmar, receiving in excess of 650,000 people crossing into their borders. While being mainly cooperative on this front Bangladesh have a noted issue with security forces breaching human rights via arbitrary arrests, torture, and extrajudicial executions. Alam has been a photojournalist for over four decades and has been featured globally. His arrest was in response to him documenting and being critical of the government’s crackdown on people protesting for an improvement in road safety conditions.
A close associate with the government of Bangladesh, Sajeeb Wazed, wrote for Real Clear World recently that the arrest of Alam was justified. He claims that the opposition party, Bangladeshi National Party (BNP), exploited the public demonstrations to stir up unrest and political division for their own gain. He claims that the government has protected his civil rights for an extended period of time but have taken action against him due to participating in these alleged activities of the BNP. These claims should be taken in context as Wazed has more than enough motive to protect the actions of the government; in addition to this is the historical claims of corruption against him. As reported by The Times, British MP, Tulip Siddiq who also happens to be the niece of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has called for the release of Alam. This is among a chorus of other voices including many international artists such as Steve McQueen, ignoring the claims of Wazed in calling for his release.
It seems clear that the arrest of Shahidul Alam was unjustified given the context surrounding the event. It seems unlikely that a well-respected and humanitarian photojournalist who has had a long career would shift on a pivot in a way that Wazed has accused him of doing. Alam is expected to have a bail hearing in mid-September. Those responsible within the Bangladeshi system should release him at this time or even sooner. Subsequent to this should be the charges against Alam being discontinued. It is unknown how he will approach the rest of his career after his hopeful release but Alam will certainly be more wary of figures within his own country who oppose his activity in his home country.
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