On August 5, 2018, Bangladeshi authorities reportedly arrested Shahidul Alam, a visiting professor at Sunderland University, a public intellectual, and an acclaimed photojournalist, in apparent retaliation for his public comments on widespread student protests in Bangladesh.
In addition to his scholarly work at Sunderland University, Alam has established photo and media institutions in Bangladesh, including the Drik Gallery, the Pathshala South Asian Media Academy, and Majority World. Since the 1980s, Alam has captured significant political moments in Bangladesh and is recognized as a prominent voice and intellectual in photography.
On August 5, 2018, Alam spoke on Facebook Live and Al Jazeera about ongoing student protests in Bangladesh that called for safer roads prompted by a speeding bus that killed two college students. Alam was among a group of journalists that were reportedly attacked by youth league members earlier that day while covering one of the protests. In his interview with Al Jazeera, Alam alleged that police hired armed individuals to violently attack student protesters. Hours after Al Jazeera aired the interview, a group of at least thirty Detective Branch police officers reportedly raided Alam’s home, took him into custody, interrogated him, and charged him under section 57 of the International Communication and Technology Act (ICT Act) for electronically sharing material that “tends to deprave and corrupt” the public and causes “deterioration in law and order.”
On August 6, while police escorted Alam out of the Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court, Alam told reporters that police had beaten him while in custody. On August 7, a court ordered Amal to be transferred to a hospital for treatment, suspending a lower court’s order to remand him. The following day, Amal was returned to jail. He is scheduled to appear in court on September 11 for a bail hearing.
In addition to Alam, the Bangladeshi authorities are prosecuting students and journalists under the ICT Act for electronically sharing information about the protests on social media. The government has further restricted telecommunications networks in an effort to shut down the circulation of information through social media and messaging applications since August 4.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about about violent attacks, arrests, and prosecutions intended to retaliate against and restrict peaceful expression — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a party. State authorities must refrain from restricting or otherwise interfering in the nonviolent exercise of such rights. Violent attacks, arbitrary arrests, and prosecutions not only harm the immediate victim, but also undermine academic freedom, freedom of expression, and democratic society generally.
UPDATE: On November 15, 2018, a Bangladeshi court granted bail to Alam. The country’s attorney general, however, has announced plans to appeal the bail ruling.