This morning, November 15, internationally acclaimed photojournalist Shahidul Alam was granted bail by the Bangladeshi High Court after 102 days in the custody of the Bangladeshi government, and multiple unsuccessful attempts by Alam’s legal camp to secure bail. Alam’s lawyer, Sara Hossain, told Al Jazeera she hopes the 63-year-old artist will be released by Sunday.
“We now call on Bangladeshi authorities to ensure his prompt release, and for the charges to be dropped altogether. Free expression is not a crime, and Alam should never have been detained under a repressive law for simply expressing his opinion about current events,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America, an organization dedicated to protecting freedom of speech for journalists and writers internationally.
The photojournalist was abducted from his home on August 5, almost immediately following a telecasted segment of Al Jazeera in which the artist decried government-sanctioned “looting of the banks, the gagging of the media, the extrajudicial killings, disappearings, bribery, and corruption.” In weeks prior to his arrest, he had been an outspoken advocate and chronicler of the student protests throughout Dhaka, which had overtaken the city with massive crowds, demanding the Bangladeshi government reform traffic laws following the traffic-related deaths of two students.
In court, Alam was accused of posting “imaginary propaganda against the government” on his Facebook profile that “triggered panic among public and caused deterioration of law and order.” He was charged under section 57 of the International Communication and Technology Act for spreading anti-government propaganda.
Amnesty International explains, “He was unable to walk by himself when he appeared in court in August, and he told friends that he had been beaten up by the authorities.” Alam told the court, “I was hit [in custody]. I bled.” New Age Bangladesh reports that it was originally requested he spend 10 days remanded in police custody.
Thousands have rallied in support of the photojournalist, holding demonstrations and exhibitions, and publishing open letters demanding his release. Art world figureheads including Hans Ulrich Obrist, Anish Kapoor, and John Akomfrah have offered their support. Tania Bruguera, a contemporary artist who was jailed in Cuba between 2014–2015 for her outspoken opposition to Cuban censorship, has held two interventions at the Tate Modern to raise international awareness about Alam’s plight.