Ten Nobel laureates and 13 other eminent international figures in a statement have urged immediate and unconditional release of acclaimed photographer Shahidul Alam and others arrested over the recent student protests demanding road safety in Dhaka.
The signatories of the statement including Desmond Tutu and Tawakkol Karman also demanded that the ‘unlawful’ arrest of Shahidul, also an activist, be probed and that the government ensure rights of all citizens.
‘We the undersigned raise our joint voice against arbitrary police remand under the draconian ICT Act against Dr Shahidul Alam,’ reads the statement made available in social media on Sunday.
‘We urge that the Government to investigate allegations of unlawful arrest immediately and unconditionally release Dr Shahidul Alam.’
They also urged that the government immediately release all students who were arrested after the protest and take every step to ensure human rights of all citizens, including freedom of speech, freedom of media and freedom of association for all.
The statement says that school going students took to the streets in Bangladesh in a ‘spontaneous protest’ after two of their fellows were killed by a reckless bus two weeks ago.
‘They demanded their right to road safety, rule of law and justice,’ reads the statement.
The signatories say that they came to know from reports published in global print and electronic media that the young protesters as well as journalists and photographers covering the protests were attacked by the ruling party’s student and youth wings in police presence.
When university students came out in solidarity with school students, the statement says, they were arrested and subjected to police remand as well and are now facing prison sentences after being accused in various cases.
Law enforcement personnel ‘abducted’ Shahidul Alam from his home on August 5 for they did not have a warrant to arrest him, the signatories say.
Later, when the law enforcers produced Shahidul before court, the statement says, he had complained about being beaten after being abducted and having been denied the right to seek legal protection.
‘His alleged crime was taking photographs of the brutal attacks on peacefully protesting students and exercising his freedom of opinion in an interview to an international television channel,’ the statement says.
The Nobel laureate signatories are Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Tawakkol Karman, Malread Maguire, Betty Williams, Oscar Arias, Sir Richard J Roberts, Jose Ramos Horta, Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, and Muhammad Yunus.
The other signatories are Gro Harlem Brundtland, Sir Richard Branson, Richard Curtis, Mo Ibrahim, David Jones, Jerome Jame, Kerry Kennedy, Alaa Murabit, Marina Mahathir, Ella Robertson, Kate Robertson, Sharon Stone, and Jimmy Wales.
They have expressed concern that while innocent students are being tortured in police remand and harassed and intimidated, the perpetrators of violence on the peaceful protesters enjoy impunity.
With the statement, international pressure on the government for releasing Shahidul keeps mounting.
Dozens of internationally acclaimed intellectuals, professionals and activists, including Noam Chomsky and Arundhati Roy already issued statements, carried by international publications like The Guardian, demanding immediate release of Shahidul.