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100 Days in Jail: 34 South Asian luminaries call for release of Shahidul
Thirty-four prominent South Asians, including Arundhati Roy, Shabana Azmi, Amitav Ghosh, Mohammad Hanif and Nepal's former Chief Justice Sushila Karki, wrote to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina demanding the immediate release of Shahidul Alam, according to a report in the Nepal Times.
The letter, penned on the 100th day of incarceration of the acclaimed photographer, said, ÒAs well-wishers of Bangladesh and supporters of its 166 million citizens' struggle for dignity, social justice and prosperity, we are distressed by the continued imprisonment of photographer and cultural activist Shahidul Alam.
Shahidul Alam is a Bangladeshi citizen, but the rest of us in South Asia are also proud to call him our own, for the values of truth, justice and social equality he promotes.
Other distinguished persons who joined this appeal include singer and songwriter Moushumi Bhowmik (Kolkata), political scientist Jayadeva Uyangoda (Colombo), poet and critic Sankha Ghosh (Kolkata), historian and writer Ramchandra Guha (Bangalore), photographer Raghu Rai (Delhi), artist Salima Hashmi (Lahore) photographer Dayanita Singh (Delhi), Manjushree Thapa and Kanak Mani Dixit (Kathmandu).
It is clear to us that the case of Shahidul Alam is being used as a means to suppress criticism by others in civil society. His arrest and continued detention appear to be manifestation of an intolerant political atmosphere, an attempt to threaten and silence the voice of Bangladeshi citizens,Ó the letter reads.
With the country preparing for general elections, this is a time when there should be more space for debate and discussion, not less, it adds.
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) also denounced the continued detention of Shahidul and called on the government to free him immediately, according to a press release.
Rights defenders and photographers in Bangladesh made a similar call.
We have recently seen that convicts of murder get presidential clemency. But, Shahidul, who was sent to jail for pointing out the real scenario of the country, has yet to get bail. It's unfortunate,Ó said Prof Anu Muhammad.
He said this at a rally organised to mark the 100th day of Shahidul's arrest.
A group of photographers organised the rally in front of the National Museum at Shahbagh where participants protested the arrest of Shahidul by covering their mouths with red cloths.
Shahidul was picked up by plainclothes men from his home in the capital's Dhanmondi on August 5.
Police filed a case against him and produced him before a Dhaka court the next day. He was subsequently placed on a seven-day remand.
In the court, Shahidul said he was tortured in custody which the police denied.
On completion of his remand, Shahidul was refused bail and sent to jail on August 13.
Describing how Shahidul was picked up by law enforcers, Anu Muhammad said, ÒThe noted photographer has been kept behind bars in an extrajudicial manner.
By picking up Shahidul, the government wanted to create panic so that other people dare not speak, he observed.
Rights activist Hameeda Hossain questioned the role of the judges dealing with Shahidul's case.
My question to the judges is why they cannot grant bail to Shahidul since the allegations against him have not been proved yet, she said.
No matter how much pressure the government creates, we will not give in. We will continue our protests until Shahidul is free, said Khushi Kabir, another rights defender.
Munem Wasif, photographer and teacher of Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, said Shahidul was sent to jail for expressing his opinion.
What will we do with independence when people cannot express their opinions freely after so many years of independence? he asked.
Many notable personalities, including Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and 11 other Nobel prizewinners, have also called for his immediate release.