Shahidul Alam, a 63-year-old, award-winning photographer and social activist, was released from a Dhaka jail on Tuesday. He was arrested in August at his home in Dhaka shortly after giving an interview to the Al Jazeera news network in which he accused the government of extrajudicial killings and corruption.
Read more: Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam granted bail
Although he hasn’t been charged, Shahidul Alam is being investigated under Bangladesh’s “Information Communications Technology Act” on suspicion of spreading propaganda and false information. The charges carry a 14-year jail sentence if proven.
There have been calls for Alam’s release from around the world. US newspapers The New York Times and Washington Post published commentaries supporting him and calling for him to be set free.
DW’s Director General Peter Limbourg also called for Alam’s release, and the photographer has along working relationship with DW, having served for five years as the Bengali-language judge for DW’s online activism awards known as “The Bobs.”
Read more: Best years of my life | Bangladeshi migrant labor in Malaysia – Photographs and Words by Shahidul Alam
Under the premiership of Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh adopted a law penalizing media that publish or broadcast anything deemed to be against the “public interest.”
In the lead-up to Bangladesh’s general election, which has been pushed back to December 30, activists and prominent dissidents, including student leaders, have been arrested. The opposition claims 5,000 activists have been detained in recent weeks, undermining localn campaigning for the election.
In an interview with DW, Sara Hossain, Alam’s lawyer, spoke about her client’s health and the possible trial against him.
DW: Alam spent more than 100 days in a prison. Is he is in good health?
Sara Hossain: He doesn’t look in good shape. He will be seeking medical treatment now as he is out of jail.
Read more: Bangladesh: Jailed photographer Shahidul Alam needs ‘urgent medical attention’
Bangladeshi authorities claimed that the internationally acclaimed photographer was arrested for making “false” and “provocative” statements on Al Jazeera television and Facebook during a volatile student protest. Were they able to prove these allegations in court?
Well, the actual trail hasn’t started yet, so there is no question of proving anything with evidence. The police haven’t yet submitted the investigation report. However, some content from Shahidul Alam’s Facebook profile was screened in the court, and it was very clear, as admitted by the court, that there was nothing there to prove the allegations against him.
For example, the police claimed that Alam called for the “overthrow the state.” But, he never made any statement like that. It’s now clear that they allegations against him are false and concocted.
Alam has secured a permanent bail, according to local media. How is the case shaping up now?
Even after more than a hundred days, police have yet to file an investigation report. As per orders of the trial court, they have to submit the report by December 11. If the authorities say in that report that the allegations against Alam have been proven, then the accused will be charges in the court. A trial will then proceed.
I think there are a number of reasons why this case won’t hold. As I said, the allegations against Alam are totally concocted.
Alam was arrested and charged under Section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information Communications Technology (ICT) act. Human rights organizations criticize the law as a government tool to suppress freedom of expression. What do you have to say about it?
Section 57 of the ICT act is vague and arbitrary. The Bangladeshi government has already repealed it. Some ministers have also admitted that the ICT act is repressive. Therefore, it is astonishing that Prime Minister Hasina’s government has decided to continue cases filed under the ICT act without review to the law.
Sara Hossain is an internationally renowned human rights lawyer.
The interview was conducted by Arafatul Islam.