This statement was originally published on article19.org on 10 August 2018.
On 6 August 2018, Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam was arrested and detained for allegedly "making provocative comments", and "giving false information" to media, contrary to the Information Communications Technology Act (ICT Act). He remains in detention. Since being taken into custody, Alam has been denied access to his lawyers, and was reportedly beaten and is in poor health. Authorities initially agreed that Alam would be taken to hospital for medical assistance, but after a brief visit on 8 August he has been returned to detention. We, the undersigned civil society organisations, call for Shahidul Alam's immediate and unconditional release, that all allegations against him be dropped, and that he receive proper medical care.
63-year old Alam was arrested at his home in Dhaka on the evening of 5 August 2018 and brought into police custody a few hours after he posted a video on Facebook and participated in an interview with Al Jazeera about the ongoing road safety protests in Dhaka, where more than 40 journalists and media workers have been injured by groups of armed men.
Alam is accused of violations under Section 57 of the Information Communications Technology Act. However, journalists and rights activists have consistently raised concerns that the law is incompatible with international human rights standards, including Bangladesh's international obligations under Article 19 of the ICCPR, due to its broad powers to restrict online expression. It has been widely applied against journalists and ordinary citizens who have been arrested, prosecuted and jailed solely for their expression.
On 9 August, a petition by Alam's lawyers was heard at the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh demanding they have access to Alam, that he be brought before the court and seeking a court order that he is not subjected to ill-treatment while in custody. The High Court ordered the Home Secretary of the Government of Bangladesh to "arrange medical treatment" for Alam in accordance with Section 2(6) of the Torture and Custodial Death Prevention Act 2013, to make a full medical assessment for ill-treatment, and to report to the court by 13 August 2018.
ARTICLE 19 and the undersigned national and international human rights organisations call for Shahidul Alam's immediate and unconditional release, and that all allegations against him be dropped as they represent a blatant violation of his right to freedom of expression. We further urge the Ministry of Home Affairs to immediately comply with the court's order and grant Alam proper medical assistance without delay.
We remain deeply concerned by the use of laws such as the ICT Act in Bangladesh to legally harass journalists and media workers and violate the right to freedom of expression, and call for its urgent repeal.
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Index on Censorship
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK)
Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF)
Bandhu Social Welfare Society (BSWF)
Bangladesh Adivasi Forum
Bangladesh Dalit and Excluded Rights Movements (BDERM)
Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC)
Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP)
German Section of Amnesty International
Sramik Nirapotta Forum (SNF)
Boys of Bangladesh (BOB)
Friends Association for Integrated Revolution (FAIR)
Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF)
National Alliance of Disabled Peoples Organizations
Steps Towards Development
Transparency International, Bangladesh (TIB)
Open Society Foundations Program on Independent Journalism