Statement on the Arrest of Shahidul Alam and Violence at Student Protests in Bangladesh



AUG 7, 2018

Roopbaan unequivocally condemns the arrest of Shahidul Alam from his residence on August 5, 2018. Alam, a prominent award-winning photographer, activist and writer who founded Drik Picture Library and Patshala South Asian Media Academy, was arrested for his interview with the Qatar based news outlet Al Jazeera. Alam was charged under Section 57 of the Information Communication Technology (ICT) Act for his “provocative comments” about the recent student protests in Bangladesh.

As Bangladeshi Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Hijra, Intersex and Queer community, we have first-hand experience of institutional practice of oppression through laws like BPC Section 377, BPC 54 or ICT 57. Civil society members and rights activists have expressed concern that ICT 57 can be used to silence unsanctioned public voices since BNP-Jamat government enacted the law in 2006 and BAL later modified. Roopbaan wants to reaffirm that Alam’s interview with Al Jazeera is his constitutional right under article 39 of the constitution of People’s Republic of Bangladesh that ensures right to hold opinions without interference or restriction. Alam’s mention of rampant lawlessness, corruption, widespread discontent etc. is, frankly, common sense knowledge and everyday experience among Bangladeshis. That Alam’s words are considered a threat speaks more to the threat that repressive laws like ICT 57 pose to any semblance of freedom and democracy in the country.

During his transfer to court, 63 year old Alam related that he was assaulted and his blood-stained clothes were washed before he was made to wear them again. He was unable to walk by himself in the court and forced inside the police van when tried to talk to the media. We are deeply concerned for Alam’s safety and suspect that he will face more mistreatment in police custody.

We are appalled also at the atrocious forces—police and gangs—that have been unleashed on student protests demanding road safety, which started on July 29, 2018 after two students were killed by a speeding bus.

As Bangladeshi queer community, we believe that none of us is liberated until all of us are free. We, therefore, join our voices with people around the world and in Bangladesh to call for immediate release of Shahidul Alam. Furthermore, we urge the government to cease the police attack on student protesters and take urgent action against machete and stick-wielding gangs attacking journalists and student protesters.

47 years after the war of liberation, we still don’t enjoy the freedom to express ourselves, associate with others, and love whom we want to love in our motherland. Likewise, the arrest of Shahidul Alam reminds us of the horrific chapter of December 14, 1971 in our collective history. In 1971 Pakistan’s atrocities were tragic, in 2018 the Bangladeshi government carrying out similar repressive practices is farcical and further disrobes the government of any legitimacy. Roopbaan weaves its voice to the slogans in Bangladesh’s streets: “We want justice!”

With love and solidarity.