Bangladesh Court Refuses to Hear Journalist’s Bail Request

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Dhaka
2018-09-04
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180904-BD-alam-620.JPG Visitors to Drik, a Dhaka-based multimedia organization, art gallery and photo archive founded by award-winning photojournalist Shahidul Alam, react to one of his photographs, Sept. 4, 2018.
Courtesy Drik

Updated at 4:55 p.m. ET on 2018-09-04

A Bangladeshi High Court panel declined on Tuesday to hold a bail hearing for jailed photojournalist Shahidul Alam without explaining why, the attorney general said.

The renowned photographer was arrested a month ago under the nation’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Act after he criticized a government crackdown on student protesters. Officials claim he provoked violence by spreading false information.

“The High Court has felt embarrassed to hear the bail petition of Shahidul Alam,” Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told BenarNews. “As a matter of our practice, the judges need not clarify to lawyers why they felt embarrassed.”

Justices Ruhul Quddus and Khandaker Diliurujjaman had been assigned the photojournalist’s petition for bail on Aug. 29. Officials did not say which of the two judges had declared that they were “embarrassed” to hear it.

Sara Hossain, an attorney representing Shahidul Alam, said his legal team would make a “final attempt” on Wednesday to secure bail by appealing to Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, who was expected to assign the matter to other judges.

“Is this the reality that he would be jailed, he would not be given the chance to seek bail and there would be no hearing on his bail petition?” she asked reporters outside the court.

Pressure

In Bangladesh, judges have been known to decline politically sensitive cases on the grounds of “feeling embarrassed” about handling them.

When the Bangladesh Nationalist Party – now the main opposition party – ruled the country from 2001 till 2006, many judges said they felt “embarrassed” to take on cases related to the assassination of Bangladesh’s founding leading, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the current prime minister, Sheikh Hasina.

In such instances, political pressure on a case or influence from powerful groups can be a factor, according to legal experts.

“Judges can feel embarrassed to hear any case when they think they can somehow be influenced in anybody’s favor, or when judges think they have some personal involvement in the case. The judges are given the privilege to show embarrassment for the sake of justice,” former Chief Justice A.B.M. Khairul Haque told BenarNews.

‘False claims’

Police arrested Alam, 63, at his residence in early August, hours after he criticized the ruling Awami League government in an interview with Al Jazeera television, and posted Facebook Live updates about the situation in the streets as police and armed goons cracked down on student protests.

The demonstrations had brought parts of Dhaka to a standstill for a week as teenagers demonstrated for road safety after two classmates were killed by a speeding bus in late July.

At least 42 people – half of them students – were arrested in connection with the protests. As many as 26 journalists were beaten and injured while covering the dramatic scenes in the streets.

As he was being dragged to court, Shahidul Alam yelled out that police had beaten him and refused to allow him access to a lawyer.

Last week, Shahidul Alam’s partner, Rehnuma Ahmad, told BenarNews that he had severe jaw pain, difficulty breathing and was suffering from eye problems while in custody. “He could not eat anything solid for the last seven days,” she said on Thursday.

The son and niece of Prime Minister Hasina, meanwhile, have expressed differing views about Alam’s incarceration.

Hasina’s son, Sajeeb Wazed, an information and communications adviser to the Awami League government, accused the award-winning photographer of inciting violence.

“He used both social and traditional media outlets to spread false claims about students’ deaths. That, in turn, initiated violence and an attack on the governing party’s headquarters,” Wazed said in a statement on Aug. 29.

However, his cousin Tulip Siddiq, a member of the British parliament, called on Bangladesh’s government to release Shahidul Alam.

“Bangladesh must uphold international standards of justice in treating its own citizens,” Siddiq told The Times of London. “I would hope our Foreign Office will convey that message in stark terms to a country that is seen as a close ally.”

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