Demands to release Shahidul Alam gather force at UNGA29 September 2018
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.