On March 22, police shut down Drik Picture Library, a leading photography gallery in Dhaka, for refusing to cancel an exhibition highlighting alleged extrajudicial killings connected to the Bangladeshi police. Moments before the scheduled opening, local police raided Drik, claiming that it had failed to obtain an appropriate permit for the exhibition.
Titled “Crossfire,” the show featured photographs related to killings allegedly carried out by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh police. Organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have recently criticized the RAB for its lack of accountability and denial of more than 100 in-custody deaths. “Officers often contend that these are ‘crossfire’ killings, in which they killed an alleged criminal in self-defense,” reads the text that accompanied the display.
On the day of the opening, RAB’s media department contacted Shahidul Alam, Drik’s director, and warned him that the gallery needed police permission to hold a show on the topic of “crossfire.” Alam, an acclaimed Bangladeshi photojournalist, ignored the threat. “We’ve been in operation since 1993and it has never been required of us to have specific permission for a particular exhibition,” he told Bangladesh’s online news resource bdnews24.
Following the closure, armed police officers were dispatched to Drik and blocked entrance to the building. In defiance, the gallery held an impromptu event launching its new journalism program, Pathshala South Asian Media Academy, on the streets in front of the gallery. Notable guests, including celebrated Indian human-rights activist and writer Mahasweta Devi, attended the inauguration in support.
On March 26, Drik’s lawyers issued a legal notice to the Bangladeshi government requesting the immediate removal of police from the gallery’s property. Three days later, Alam also filed a police report regarding an anonymous death threat he received on March 27. As ArtAsiaPacific goes to press, a result is pending for the petition against the government, as the ban on the “Crossfire” exhibition continues.