A Dhaka trial court on Tuesday rejected another bail petition by jailed photojournalist Shahidul Alam, with his lawyers saying they would appeal the ruling as global rights watchdog Amnesty International slammed his ongoing incarceration for “no justifiable reason whatsoever.”
Metropolitan Sessions Court Judge K.M. Imrul Kayes turned down Alam, a day after Bangladesh’s High Court ordered the lower trial court to rule on his bail request. It was the second time that Alam was denied bail following his arrest in early August.
“After hearing both sides, the court today turned down Shahidul’s bail petition,” prosecution lawyer Abdullah Abu told BenarNews on Tuesday.
The renowned photographer, 63, was arrested on Aug. 5 under the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Act, after he appeared in a live TV interview and also criticized a government crackdown on student protestors who were demanding safety improvements on the nation’s notoriously dangerous roads.
Officials claim he provoked violence and encouraged the overthrow of the Awami League government through circulating “fabricated and false” information through social media posts.
The protests that broke out in late July and early August following the deaths of two teenage students, who were killed by a speeding bus on July 29, brought parts of the Bangladeshi capital to a standstill.
On Tuesday, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal alleged that Alam had made the social media posts to instigate protesters against the government.
“Besides circulating false information against the government, he gave the Al Jazeera false information about the government. He termed our government ‘illegal,’” Khan said, referring to the interview on the Qatar-based TV network.
“Anyone can criticize our government, but entertaining false information is punishable. So, the police arrested him. The police will investigate the charges and file the charge sheet. The case will be settled through the legal procedures,” the minister added.
Khan said he could not predict when the charge sheet would be filed.
Alam’s partner, Rehnuma Ahmed, refuted the allegations that his comments were part of anti-government conspiracy.
“Shahidul talked about the safe road demands from a journalistic point of view, from the perspective of a citizen. He has never been a member of any political party,” she said.
Rehnuma said Alam had been treated unfairly.
“The treatment being given to Shahidul would affect everyone. This is not a good example,” she said.
‘Cruel affront to justice’
Following the latest court ruling, Alam’s lawyer, Sara Hossain, told reporters that she would again petition the High Court to grant her client bail.
Amnesty International, meanwhile, issued a statement supporting the award-winning photojournalist and calling for his immediate release.
“The decision to deny Shahidul Alam bail is a cruel affront to justice. He should never have been detained in the first place, since all he did was peacefully exercise his right to freedom of expression,” said Saad Hammadi, the South Asia campaigner for London-based Amnesty.
“Now, he is being subjected to prolonged detention for no justifiable reason whatsoever,” he added. “Beyond the injustice to Shahidul Alam himself, the case risks tarnishing Bangladesh’s reputation globally. There has been a widespread outcry against the appalling treatment of this much loved photographer.”
BenarNews, meanwhile, obtained a police first information report (FIR) into Alam’s case. The photojournalist played a “major role” in a conspiracy to unseat the government, by circulating “fabricated and wrong” information through his Facebook page as well as to foreign media and other electronic media, the report indicated.
He had also portrayed “the elected government as unelected and ineffective in the international arena,” according to the report.
The FIR accused Shahidul of “causing deterioration” in law and order and “creating hatred and anger among the people against the government.”
Tuesday’s court action came two days after police arrested 12 students from Dhaka’s Tejgaon area on charges of circulating fabricated information during the safe road protests.
On Monday, a court rejected their bail application and granted the police a two-day remand for each suspect.
“They instigated the anti-government protests. The police have been investigating their role,” Khan, the home minister, told BenarNews.