Teachers Against Abuse and Torture (Nipiraner Biruddhe Shikkhyakbrindya), a network of public and private university teachers from all over Bangladesh has recently circulated the following statement on Shahidul Alam and student repression that is going on in the country. A shortened version of the statement is published below:
In the past week, Bangladesh has witnessed a new social phenomenon, a social movement spear-headed by a generation of students who may be called the generation of the 2000s. Students carried innovative placards and festoons, written all by themselves and performed protest songs day in and day out. They chanted slogans such as we want justice. While this was going all very well, we note in horror that after the sixth day of continual protest, a spate of violent activities took hold of the streets of Dhaka, perpetrated by a number of different bodies of the ruling Awami League. In deep shock, we note as to how a peaceful social movement by school and college students is being vilified and demonized by the ruling party and its different functionaries. The thugs of the ruling party have chased down students, violently attacked on peaceful gatherings, molested female students and journalists, locked up students in different buildings and also physically assaulted students under broad daylight and in front of police. On several occasions, police teargassed students to disperse processions and gatherings, shot rubber bullets and used water cannons.
Internationally acclaimed photographer and activist Dr Shahidul Alam was documenting all of this. He was doing what he does best, speaking truth to power! As an independent journalist and photographer, he was simply on duty, filming the machete-wielding goons chasing down the unarmed students. His camera was broken once by the goons who didn’t want to be filmed. A number of other photo-journalists were attacked on August 4 and 5 in different parts of the city. On August 5 around midday, Dr Alam was interviewed online by Al Jazeera where he provided his observation and analysis of the current situation in Dhaka. Within hours of airing the news report, late in the evening on the same day he was forcibly abducted from his house in Dhanmondi.
Initially, it was unclear as to where he was taken. According to the security guards of the building, the intruders claimed to be from the Detective Branch (DB). They forcefully took away the CCTV camera footage, put scotch-tape on the CCTV camera. Dr Alam was forcefully put into a Hi-Ace microbus. Late in the evening Additional Commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DB) Abdul Baten admitted to UNB (United News of Bangladesh) that a team of Detective Branch (DB) of police has detained Dr Alam from his Dhanmondi residence for interrogation over his Facebook posts on the ongoing student protests. For the whole night, family members of Dr Alam waited in front of DB office in Dhaka. It was only in the morning on August 6 that they were informed about his whereabouts. Later in the day he was shown arrested in a case filed by police under ICT law and was sent to court.
In a recent press conference, Dr Alam’s wife Rahnuma Ahmed (an anthropologist and columnist) asked, “…Is the law enforcement force supposed to abduct him like this? It is the goons who abduct, we all know that. If the law enforcement force continues to pick up people from their houses forcibly, we have to re-think the meaning of the term ‘Law Enforcement Force’ again.”Barrister Sara Hossain said, “According to the section 33 of our constitution – if someone gets arrested it is customary for the force to provide information about the arrested person’s whereabouts, as soon as possible. Under section 43, a person’s house cannot be entered illegally or forcibly. The state is supposed to protect the communication and correspondence of every citizen. In this case, the state has offended both the sections.”
Echoing Rahnuma Ahmed we condemn the circumstances in which Dr Alam was abducted. His abduction scene begs fundamental questions on citizenship rights and the rule of law. Is there any law? If not then how are they called the law “enforcing agencies”? As citizens of Bangladesh, we ask if it is our government’s responsibility to provide an explanation to the citizens. We ask the government why the law enforcement forces are acting like goons. Why are the citizens being targeted and attacked one after another? Why the citizens have been whisked away and made disappeared?
We demand the immediate release of Dr Shahidul Alam. He was tortured in custody and needs immediate medical attention. We demand an inquiry into why the officials’ responsible destroyed property and threatened others, and also why security forces could not act within the bounds of the law. We demand an explanation as to why a peaceful movement for road safety was met with violence? Why are university students (both public and private) attacked by outside goons in cooperation with police?
In some areas, we are even hearing of students being harangued by the party goons when taking shelter in private houses. They have been threatened by the school committees to be evicted from their schools. We demand an answer and legal action addressing all of this. Echoing students we demand justice.