As Kathmandu welcomes several heads of states and governments for the fourth summit of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) on Thursday and Friday, the city’s walls and streets have been lit up with projected images and slogans calling for the release of noted Bangaldeshi photographer Shahidul Alam. The aim is to draw the attention of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who arrives on Wednesday to attend the Summit.
Alam is a world-renowned Bangladeshi photographer, writer and activist who was arrested from his home in Dhaka on 5 August following an interview on Aljazeera in which he was critical of the Bangladeshi government’s crackdown on student protests. Alam has been charged under Section 57 of draconian Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act for ‘spreading propaganda and false information against the government’.
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Shahidul Alam was produced before the magistrate on 5 August, he could not walk unaided, and was barefoot. He stated before the magistrate that he had been tortured in police custody, that he had been blindfolded, his hands had been handcuffed behind his back, verbally abused; at the place where he had been interrogated, a heavy weight had been placed over his head and he had been asked whether he could feel its weight, he had been punched on the face, his clothes had become bloodied, it had been washed and dried and ironed before he had been produced in court, he had been accused of being a Mossad agent, had been threatened that Rahnuma Ahmed would be abducted, and that “pins” would be used the next time. Witnesses say he showed clear signs of physical abuse. However, the magistrate did not record his statement and did not arrange for his medical examination, although this is required under Bangladesh law.
There have been appeals for his release from around the world by journalists, academics, human rights actors and organisations such as Amnesty International, Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) and the Pulitzer Center among hundreds of others. Most recently, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen issued a statement, saying: ‘Freedom of expression, including through photojournalism, is extremely important for democracy. We have good reason to admire the work that Shahidul Alam has been doing with great skill and courage for many years. His work should receive praise and appreciation, rather than being ground for harsh treatment.’
Alam’s has been assaulted in custody, denied proper medical treatment, and denied proper access to his lawyer and family. Bangladeshi PM Hasina is attending BIMSTEC alongside Indian PM Narendra Modi, and heads of states of Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal will be in Kathmandu till Friday.
These images are from projections on walls and buildings of Kathmandu to coincide with the BIMSTEC Summit this week.