Three hundred and twenty three nationally and internationally renowned activists, artistes and academics have called for immediate release of acclaimed photographer Shahidul Alam and other road safety protesters.
One hundred and fifty three national and international campaigners under the banner of Teachers Against Abuse and Torture and Transnational Friends of Bangladesh in an open letter to prime minister Sheikh
Hasina on Friday also called on the government to stop torturing and ‘victim-blaming’ the protesters and instead focus on ‘catching the criminals’ who were torturing them.
On the same day, over 170 Mexicans from culture, photography, film, theatre and music industries as well as writers in a letter to Hasina alleged that Shahidul was held in prison ‘in isolation, no access to doctors or his lawyer’, which they believed was a violation of his rights.
Shahidul, 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 wide condemnation from local and international rights groups, professionals and intellectuals, including American writer and philosopher Noam Chomsky, Indian writer Arundhati Roy, Canadian author Naomi Klein and Indian intellectual Vijay Prashad.
The letter of Teachers Against Abuse and Torture has accused the authorities of ‘making matters worse’ after the ‘abduction’ of Shahidul and arrests of students and journalists.
The open letter has described arbitrary arrests of Shahidul and others as ‘citizens being whisked away and made to disappear’.
The letter has made four demands to Hasina: immediate release of Shahidul and all the detained protesters; ensuring justice for both students and journalists; an independent inquiry into why the officials responsible destroyed property and threatened others; and an urgent inquiry into why the security forces could not act within the bounds of the law.
Professor Anu Muhammad, a spokesperson for Teachers Against Abuse and Torture, said that they had witnessed an unprecedented rise of teens as political power to make the rulers understand that when older generation and old politics fail, there are new generation and new politics to replace. ‘Torture, restriction of media, abduction, extrajudicial killing, and controlling institutions will not be able to kill people’s aspiration and power,’ he said.
Gita Sahgal, director of Centre for Secular Space, said that the treatment of Shahidul was a stain on the national conscience of Bangladesh. ‘He [Shahidul] should be released immediately and the authorities should refrain from attacking peaceful student protests and criminalising opposition to their brutality.’
Professor Anu Muhammad, professor Kaberi Gayen, professor Gitiara Nasrin, One Law for All and Council of Ex-Muslim spokesperson Maryam Namazie, photographer Peter Marshal, poet Ariana Reines, Mines and Communities spokesperson Roger Moody, Women Against Fundamentalism co-founder Nira Yuval-Davis and professor Max Farrar were among eminent transnational authors, archivists, artistes, editors, researchers and writers who signed the letter.
The signatories have noted that despite evidences no one of the ruling party was yet to be convicted, or even tried, for any of the violent incidents. ‘Students are being harangued by the political party goons when taking shelter in private houses in some areas of the city.’
Emmanuel Lubezki, Alfonso Cuaron, Pedro Meyer, Graciela Iturbide, Juan Villoro, Everardo Gonzalez, Alejandro Springall, Pia Elizondo, and Daniel Gimenez Cacho were among the 170 artistes from Mexico, who called for Shahidul’s immediate release in the letter to Hasina.
‘We in Mexico, join his colleagues in culture in the international arts community who are deeply concerned for his health both physical and mental. This is a humanitarian, a man of great culture. We demand his immediate release,’ read the letter.
An exhibition of Shahidul’s work and that of other Drik photographers has been planned for sometime in 2019 at Foto Museo Cuatro Caminos, said the letter.
Shahidul is a recipient of multiple awards, including Shilpakala Padak (2014); the Lucie Foundation announced this year that he would be receiving the distinguished Humanitarian Award 2018.
Shahidul is a photographer, academic, human rights activist, and founder of Drik Picture Library and Pathshala South Asian Media Institute which has trained hundreds of photographers.
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