Bangladesh puts top photographer behind bars

Alam was accused of making false and provocative statements on TV and Facebook Live as tens of thousands of students protested in Dhaka in late July and early August

Dhaka: Award-winning Bangladesh photographer Shahidul Alam was in jail on Monday, 10 days after being arrested following an interview with Al Jazeera about massive student demonstrations, police said.

Alam, 63, who accused police of assaulting him in custody and was earlier sent to a hospital for a check-up following an order from the high court, was taken to a magistrate’s court late on Sunday.

“The court then sent him to jail,” police official Moshiur Rahman told AFP.

Another police officer told the local Daily Star newspaper that Alam would be kept in prison until the completion of the probe into his charges.

Alam was accused of making “false” and “provocative” statements on Al Jazeera and on Facebook Live as tens of thousands of students protested in Dhaka in late July and early August. He also published photos of the demonstrations.

Alam told Al Jazeera that the protests were the result of pent-up anger at an “unelected government … clinging on by brute force” that has looted banks, gagged the media and is steeped in corruption.

He is being investigated for allegedly violating Bangladesh’s internet laws, enacted in 2006 and sharpened in 2013, that critics say are used to snuff out dissent and harass journalists.

Alam — whose work has appeared widely in Western media and who founded the renowned Pathshala South Asian Media Institute — faces a maximum 14 years in jail, along with others who have been charged with breaching the laws in the wake of the protests.

The renowned photographer told reporters outside court last Monday that he had been beaten so badly in police custody that his tunic needed washing to get the blood out.

New York-based Human Rights Watch and London’s Amnesty International have demanded his release, and on Monday United Nations human rights experts echoed these calls.

“The arrest and alleged ill-treatment of Mr. Alam is extremely worrying and takes place in a general context of a crackdown against young students and others calling for better public governance, reforms and justice in Bangladesh, including media workers and other civil society,” said the experts in a statement.

The experts were special rapporteurs on human rights, freedom of expression and arbitrary detention, respectively Michel Forst, David Kaye and Seong-Phil Hong.

Alam’s arrest capped a turbulent week in Bangladesh as students poured onto the streets in Dhaka and elsewhere for nine straight days after two teenagers were killed by a speeding bus.

Last weekend the demonstrations turned violent as some protesters vandalised and torched vehicles and police used tear gas and rubber bullets.

Mobs allegedly aligned with the government and wielding metal rods attacked demonstrators, journalists and even the US ambassador’s car. Some 150 people were injured.

Although the protests fizzled out last week, Bangladesh authorities launched a crackdown on online activists for “spreading rumours” to fuel the unrest.

Police are looking for people behind some 1,000 Facebook accounts and have arrested at least a dozen social media activists.

These include a television actress and the head of an online media outlet.

A well-known Bangladeshi online activist, Pinaki Bhattacharya, has also not been seen since August 5, his father told AFP on Monday, saying he presumed he had gone underground to escape arrest.

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