After 2 Months Behind Bars, Bangladeshi Photographer Awaits Bail Decision

Prapti Rahman
181005-BD-Shahidul-1000.jpg An activist holds a sign bearing a portrait of jailed photographer Shahidul Alam during a protest outside the Bangladeshi High Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Oct. 2, 2018.

A High Court panel is scheduled on Sunday to hear a fifth bail request for noted photographer Shahidul Alam since his arrest and jailing two months ago for allegedly violating Bangladesh’s online defamation laws.

Alam was arrested on Aug. 5 after he posted Facebook updates and gave an interview to Al Jazeera about week-long street protests which broke out after two students were run down by a bus. So far, he has been denied three requests for bail in four hearings.

“My belief is the charges brought against Alam will ultimately not be proved in court. This is because the charges are baseless,” his wife, Rehnuma Ahmed, told BenarNews.

Police told the court that investigators feared Alam could leave the country if granted bail.

“The investigation of the charges against Shahidul Alam is ongoing. It is not possible to predict a timeframe for filing the charge-sheet,” Moshiur Rahman, deputy commissioner of the police’s detective branch, which filed the case under the Information and Communication Technology, told BenarNews.

Alam’s wife challenged the police statement regarding bail.

“This is absolutely the wrong idea that Shahidul will flee,” Ahmed said.

Bail attempts

A court turned down Alam’s first bail request when it granted police a seven-day remand to hold Alam for questioning.

Since then, defense lawyers have appealed to the High Court and a lower court to free Alam.

On Aug. 14, a Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Court denied him another bail request.

Two weeks later, Alam’s attorneys submitted a bail petition before the High Court. On Sept. 4, a panel refused to hear the petition, forcing the chief justice to order another panel to take on the case.

The second High Court petition ordered the lower Sessions Court to handle the bail petition, and the lower court rejected it on Sept. 11.

Seven days later, the defense lawyers returned to the High Court seeking Alam’s release. That panel is expected to hear the latest bail request on Sunday.

While he lingers behind bars, the High Court ordered that Alam be moved to a more comfortable cell with better food.

A plane towing a banner calling for Shahidul Alam to be freed in Bangladesh flies over the Statue of Liberty in New York, Sept. 30, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Wasfia Nazreen)
A plane towing a banner calling for Shahidul Alam to be freed in Bangladesh flies over the Statue of Liberty in New York, Sept. 30, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Wasfia Nazreen)


Worldwide protests

Since Alam’s incarceration, Bangladeshis have launched protests in Dhaka and across the globe.

About a month ago, supporters posted a Facebook video of men wearing cages to signify being locked up as they sang a protest song, while hundreds gathered in Dhaka to protest Alam’s arrest. The protesters set up a motorcycle helmet where they gave alms and worshipped its power.

The helmet was significant because during the earlier street protests that Alam had reported on just hours before his arrest, stick-wielding gangs attacked students.

Seeking a global stage, a group whose Facebook page is titled “In support of Shahidul Alam,” took to the skies over New York City during the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 30.

The group hired an airplane to tow a banner that read “Free Shahidul Alam.”

“Dr. Alam is an inspiration for Bangladesh and beyond. He should be celebrated amongst Bangladeshis for the treasure and pride that he is,” said Bangladesh mountaineer Wasifa Nazreen, who has summited the world’s seven highest mountains and was on the plane flying over New York.

“We, the youth of Bangladesh who comprise almost 70 percent of the nation, urge the government of Bangladesh to immediately and unconditionally release him and all our teachers.”

Two days earlier when Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressed the General Assembly, actress Sharon Stone, American human rights activist Kerry Kennedy, Columbia University Professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and others took to the streets in New York to protest Alam’s arrest.

“What is really important for the state is that if one silences the creative artists and intellectuals, then the conscience of the state is killed because it’s the role of the creative artists and intellectuals to make constructive criticism so that the state can be a real democracy,” Spivak said in a news release issued by South Asian Citizens Web.


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