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Protect Freedom of Press in Bangladesh

Free Shaidul Alam Demo outside the UN in New York City held on 27 Sept 2018 - Press release

28 September 2018

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Fifty-Four Days and Counting: Demands to Release Shahidul Alam Gather Force at the UNGA

(September 27, 2018 — New York) Demonstrators gathered outside the UN General Assembly on September 27 to call for freedom of the press and protection of journalists in Bangladesh.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), PEN America, Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch joined family and friends of Shahidul Alam to demand his release, as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed addressed the UN General Assembly. The protest was endorsed by human rights groups and journalist associations, rights activist Kerry Kennedy, actress/activist Sharon Stone, and attended by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, among others.

Alam, an internationally renowned Bangladeshi photographer, photojournalist and activist, has been in police custody since August 5, following an interview on Al Jazeera in which he claimed that the broader context of ongoing student protests was pent-up anger at government corruption and misuse of power. The 63-year-old Alam says he has been beaten in custody, and his health has deteriorated in prison. His bail hearing has been postponed repeatedly, dragging out the judiciary process in a war of attrition. “The world has a good image of Bangladesh because of its response to the Rohingya crisis. The detention of Shahidul is tarnishing that image.” said Alam’s cousin, Salma Ahmed.

Ahead of elections in December, a culture of fear is building up in Bangladesh as activists, opposition, and academia are being rounded up. At the demonstration, Columbia University professor Gayatri Spivak pointed out, “What is really important for the state is that if one silences the creative artists and intellectuals, then the conscience of the state is killed because its the role of the creatives artists and intellectuals to make constructive criticism so that the state can be a real democracy.”

“Shahidul is a living legend who taught throughout his life how to see the light of our country, even during her darkest hours. He has always come from a place of integrity and sacrificed himself for all of us by speaking truth to power, and for that he is being wrongly imprisoned.”, said Wasfia Nazreen, National Geographic Explorer and Bangladesh’s only Seven Summiteer.

The protestors denounced the imprisonment of Alam, journalists, and student protesters in Bangladesh. Kerry Kennedy, human rights activist and daughter of Senator Bobby Kennedy, made a strong statement, “Shahidul Alam is wrongfully detained, and I proudly stand with those who are calling for his immediate and unconditional release. Bangladesh should comply with its international human rights obligations and free Shahidul Alam today.”

Alam’s imprisonment and the passage of a new Digital Security Bill point to a disturbing trend toward suppressing freedom of press and speech. Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigner, Saad Hammadi, said "Given how the authorities have arbitrarily arrested hundreds of people in the past six years under the ICT Act, there are serious concerns that the new Act will be used against people who speak out.” The legislation “would violate constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press, and would create extensive legal dangers for journalists in the normal course of carrying out their professional activities.” said Steven Butler, the Asia Program Coordinator of CPJ. “His detention is an attempt to intimidate and silence voices of dissent in Bangladesh,” said Julie Trébault, Director of the Artists at Risk Connection at PEN America. “As a photographer, Alam documents the truth; his work and his voice matter now more than ever.” South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, Meenakshi Ganguly said, “The government has accused Shahidul Alam of “false propaganda” but he was doing what he has always done: speak up for human rights. The PM says the government has no intention of gagging anyone but denying him and others the right to liberty and free speech undermines that claim.”

The call for Alam’s release was earlier supported by 12 Nobel Laureates and international figures including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Amartya Sen, and Dr. Yunus. Several British MPs with Bangladeshi roots have come out in support of Alam, including Tulip Siddiq, the PM’s niece.

Protestors demanded the unconditional release of Alam, and for all charges to be dropped against him and others held in similar circumstances.

Photo Credit: Salim Hasbini

Contact: Shamima Khan (shamimajkhan[at]; +12028177070)

See video with the eminent scholar Gayatri Spivak speaking up in defence of Shaidul Alam

source: Free Shahidul Alam