Let us make sure due process is followed at all times
On August 5, award-winning photographer and founder of Drik Gallery, Shahidul Alam, was picked up from his home for allegedly giving false information to foreign media and making “provocative comments.”
His arrest took place hours after he posted a video of the ongoing road safety protests in Dhaka on Facebook and participated in an interview for Aljazeera about the protests.
The student-led protests began after a bus killed two teenagers on July 29, with demonstrators pressing the government to address the country’s chronic road safety issues, which resulted in the death of more than 4,000 pedestrians last year.
Bangladesh’s transport sector is widely seen as unscrupulous, unregulated, and extremely dangerous, and as news of the deaths of two teenagers spread rapidly, they became a catalyst for an outpour of dissent against the government and its more corrupt sectors. The protests turned violent when police began a crackdown, with reports that journalists and photographers were being brutally beaten.
As reported by British Journal of Photography, the bureau chief of AFP claimed that Shahidul was physically harmed while in custody. Sohel Haider Chowdhury, general secretary of the Dhaka Union of Journalists, recently said that the attacks on journalists and media workers were an attack on democratic values.
The judiciary of Bangladesh currently is actually playing quite a responsible role given the unrest.
A writ petition was filed by Shahidul’s partner, writer, and columnist Rahnuma Ahmed, which challenged the constitutionality of torturing Shahidul Alam while in the DB’s custody.
It also challenged the legality of allowing DB to take Shahidul in remand after subjecting him to torture and beatings.
In the writ petition, it was stated that the additional chief metropolitan magistrate had allowed the DB to take Shahidul even under critical condition, which is an infringement of the Appellate Division’s standing directives and guidelines to magistrates for sending detained individuals on remand.
Eminent jurist Kamal Hossain, with his junior Sara Hossain, has sought directives from the High Court for the police not to torture Shahidul. The constitution does not permit torturing any citizen in custody even if he or she has done something illegal.
Advocates of free speech have raised concern with regards to the violation of the right to freedom of expression in Bangladesh and are of the opinion that we are far away from the international standards on freedom of expression, and called for an urgent repeal of Section 57 of the ICT Act.
Despite repeated high-level commitments to repealing Section 57 -- including the recent review under the Universal Periodic Review mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council -- it is continuing to be used to silence journalists, media workers, and activists.
We still believe we live in a democratic country and hence, we expect our government to immediately release Shahidul Alam and drop all charges against him. We are also aware that the government has demonstrated its commitment towards promoting and protecting freedom of expression by accepting all related recommendations at the adoption of its Universal Periodic Review (UPR), during the 39th session of Human Rights Council, and has committed to work with civil society towards their full and effective implementation.
Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed is Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh, and Research Assistant (Law), Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA).