The son of Bangladesh’s prime minister and her British MP niece have dueled in public statements over the incarceration of Shahidul Alam, as the award-winning photojournalist’s partner and lawyers said Thursday he was experiencing health problems in jail.
Alam, 63, was arrested at his home in Dhaka on Aug. 5, hours after an interview with Al Jazeera television in which he slammed the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for cracking down on thousands of student protesters, who demanded road safety reforms after two classmates were struck and killed by a speeding bus.
“He has severe pain in his jaw. He is also suffering from breathing difficulties and eye problems,” Alam’s partner, Rehnuma Ahmed, told BenarNews on Thursday. “He could not eat anything solid for the last seven days.”
Police arrested Alam under the nation’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, which criminalizes publication of content deemed likely to disrupt law and order or harm religious sentiment.
As he was seen being dragged to court by a dozen police officers, a barefoot Alam yelled at photographers, saying police had beaten him and had refused to give him access to a lawyer.
Authorities denied his allegations and a court ordered him held for questioning, setting his bail hearing for Sept. 11.
Sajeeb Wazed, Hasina’s son and an information and communications adviser to the Bangladeshi government, described Alam’s arrest as “appropriate” and accused him 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 issued on Wednesday. “Numerous people were injured because of his false and provocative assertions.”
But Tulip Siddiq, a member of the British parliament who is Hasina’s niece, called on the Bangladesh government a day earlier to release Alam, describing his detention as “deeply distressing.”
“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.”
Before his arrest, Alam had also posted live updates on Facebook about the weeklong student protests that brought many parts of Dhaka to a standstill.
Violent confrontations broke out when police and groups of men allegedly linked with the ruling party swooped in and chased the demonstrators with long sticks. Alam’s updates included tallies of injuries.
Amid the chaos, armed men attacked U.S. Ambassador Marcia Bernicat’s vehicle, although she was not harmed, the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka said.
Alam’s attorneys expressed concerns about Alam’s health and said they had filed a petition with the High Court seeking an earlier hearing for bail. A ruling is expected next week, lawyer Sara Hossain told BenarNews on Thursday.
Jyotirmoy Barua, another lawyer representing Alam, said he was surprised that authorities had not examined Alam’s claim of torture while in police custody.
He said Alam had a cut under his upper lip and a chipped tooth.
“He has been examined twice by the doctors,” Barua said on his Facebook page, referring to Alam. “But both times he was asked how he was feeling rather than following the standard procedures to ascertain whether he has been tortured in the police custody or not.”