Bangladesh’s High Court has yet to hold a hearing on photographer Shahidul Alam’s fifth bail request, after weeks of repeated postponements and denials.
Alam, one of South Asia’s best known photojournalists, has been in prison since Aug. 5 for allegedly violating online defamation laws when he criticized a government crackdown on student protesters. Human rights and press freedom groups, several Nobel laureates and prominent international artists have urged Bangladesh to release him.
“It was supposed to be held today, but it was not in the cause list [schedule], and that’s why the hearing didn't happen,” Sara Hossain, Alam’s lawyer, told BenarNews on Thursday.
“We drew the attention of the court to this. He [the judge] checked the list and said the hearing would be on Sunday.”
Bail hearings usually take place in the high court on Sundays, according to lawyer Mizanur Rahman.
Bashir Ahmed, a government prosecutor assigned to Alam’s case, told BenarNews that, if the hearing takes place, the attorney general would appear in court to present the government’s argument on why the photographer should stay in custody and be denied bail.
“The charges brought against him are baseless. He’ll be proven innocent and I hope the court will grant him bail,” Alam’s wife, Rahnuma Ahmed, told BenarNews on Thursday as she repeated her earlier assertion.
Rahnuma said she visited Shahidul every day in prison, and was allowed to sit and talk to him for 30 minutes once a week.
“He’s lost some weight and has been suffering from pain in his teeth and vertigo. But he is fine,” she said. “He is mentally quite strong.”
On Oct. 7, when Alam’s lawyers presented his fifth bail request, the High Court gave the government a one-week deadline to explain why it should keep holding him indefinitely without charge.
It did not observe the deadline, with deputy attorney-general Bashir Ullah telling BenarNews nine days later that the government was “not bound” to submit a written response and would instead give an oral reply in court.
On Sunday, Oct. 21, Alam’s case was 258 on a list of 259 cases, but was not heard.
If found guilty, Alam could get up to 14 years in prison under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT), which criminalizes online defamation. Ullah, the deputy attorney general, said the section provided no bail for online defamation.
Alam had spread “false and fabricated” news in August during mass protests demanding road safety, Ullah alleged.
“Given the gravity of his crime, he is not entitled to get bail according to legal practice and rule,” the deputy attorney general said.