Shahidul Alam Released From Jail
By Julee WJ Chung
Dhaka-based photographer and human rights activist Shahidul Alam was released from jail on November 20 after being incarcerated for more than 100 days. He was arrested on August 5 for making “false” and “provocative” statements critiquing the government’s reaction to the student-led Dhaka protests on Facebook Live, and in an interview that had aired on Al Jazeera television earlier that day.
Alam was released from Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj on Tuesday evening after being granted bail last Thursday, November 15. He had unsuccessfully applied for bail four times since August. The charges brought against Alam include “spreading propaganda and false information against the government” under Section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information Communications Technology (ICT) Act 2006, which criminalizes electronic dissemination of material that is defamatory, obscene, or causes “deterioration in law and order,” among other vaguely defined terms. If convicted, Alam faces up to 14 years in jail.
Regarding his release, the 63-year-old told Agence France-Press: “It is a fantastic feeling to be free in a free country, breathing free air. But I hope for freedom for everyone else.” He further expressed his hopes that his release will “signal freedom for many others” who were also arrested and detained during the student-led demonstrations, which were originally aimed at pressuring authorities to improve road safety.
Alam’s lawyers see his detention as “a clear violation” of his fundamental rights under Bangladesh’s constitution, while Amnesty International, in reaction to Alam’s release, said that the Bangladesh government should “uphold its international commitments to protect the rights to freedom of expression” and drop his charges immediately.
Alam’s arrest has sparked global media attention on prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s alleged misuse of the ICT laws to encroach on freedom of expression and to weaken democracy. In October, in addition to the many arrests during the August protests, the government also imprisoned a prominent newspaper publisher who helped form Bangladesh’s political opposition coalition, Moinul Hosein, for defamation.
Julee WJ Chung is the assistant editor of ArtAsiaPacific.
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