Chomsky, Arundhati among others demand release of Shahidul Alam

Staff Correspondent | Published: 12:58, Aug 10,2018 | Updated: 23:09, Aug 10,2018

Shahidul Alam

Acclaimed photographer and activist Shahidul Alam waves to people after police take him to a Dhaka metropolitan magistrate's court on Monday.-- Sony Ramany

Four internationally celebrated intellectuals and authors on Friday demanded immediate release of acclaimed photographer Shahidul Alam who was arrested on August 5 by the detective branch of police.

In a joint statement, American writer and philosopher Noam Chomsky, Indian writer Arundhati Roy, Canadian author Naomi Klein and Indian intellectual Vijay Prashad said, ‘Documentation and criticism are elementary aspects of human life. For a state to deny a citizen the right to say what is happening and to be angered about what is happening is a denial of this basic right.’

‘Reports come that Shahidul Alam has been tortured in prison. Reports also come of widespread dismay at the detention of this widely loved photographer and teacher,’ the statement, sent by Vijay in an email, noted.

‘He is, in fact, the recipient of a high honour from the government of Bangladesh—the Shilpakala Padak in 2014. Shahidul Alam was handed this award by the current president of Bangladesh, Abdul Hamid.

‘The government of Bangladesh, which gave Shahidul Alam this high award, must immediately release him, drop all charges and negotiate in good faith with the students,’ it read.

Shahidul Alam, 63, was detained by plainclothes police from his home on the night of August 5 after giving an interview to Al Jazeera about the student protests, which he documented and discussed in Facebook Live.

His arrest has drawn condemnation from local and international rights groups, professionals and intellectuals.

Shahidul had been remanded in custody by a court for violating controversial laws on internet speech.

He was accused of making ‘false’ and ‘provocative’ statements as tens of thousands of students protested in Dhaka to demand improvements to road safety and an end to corruption.

Shahidul’s arrest capped a turbulent week in Bangladesh as students poured onto the streets in Dhaka and elsewhere after two teenage students were killed by a speeding bus on July 29.

The rallies lasted nine days, turning violent at times with more than 150 people, mostly teen students, injured.

Police fired teargas and rubber bullets at protesters while mobs allegedly aligned with the government attacked demonstrators and journalists.

Meanwhile, Lucie Foundation, a renowned non-profit charitable organisation honouring photographers and their achievements across the world, on Friday launched a campaign urging to sign a statement to Bangladesh’s home minister, inspector general of police and political affairs adviser to prime minister in support of Shahidul.

Shahidul is the recipient of the 2018 Humanitarian Lucie Award, to be presented in New York in October, for his ‘extraordinary contribution in the world of photography and society’.

‘We, the Lucie Foundation, are deeply concerned by the news of the arbitrary and unreasonable detention of our colleague, friend and mentor the photographer and activist, Shahidul Alam, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, under provisions of the draconian ICT act. We demand his immediate release,’ the foundation said.

‘Immediately and unconditionally release Shahidul Alam, who is a prisoner of conscience, and drop all charges as he has been detained solely for peacefully exercising his human right to freedom of expression,’ it said.

‘Ensure that activists, human rights defenders, journalists, academics and member of the political opposition and other members of the public are able to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association,’ the foundation said.

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