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Bangladesh photographer denied bail again

September 11, 2018

A Bangladesh court refused bail for award-winning photographer and rights activist Shahidul Alam, whose month-long detention has triggered an international outcry, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Alam was arrested on August 5 for making “false” and “provocative” statements on Al Jazeera and on Facebook Live during massive student protests in the capital Dhaka.

Rights groups, UN rights experts, Nobel laureates and hundreds of academics have called for the immediate release of the 63-year-old, who says he has been beaten in custody.

After the country’s high court last week refused to consider the request, Alam’s lawyers moved to Dhaka’s Metropolitan sessions judge on Tuesday, making another petition for his release on bail.

“But the court rejected the bail application,” his lawyer Sara Hossain told AFP, adding that the court did not explain the reason for the rejection.

Prosecutor Abdullah Abu told AFP that they opposed Alam’s bail after he incited people during last month’s protests by making seditious comments against the government and the state.

“He has said the present government must be overthrown,” Abu said, quoting from the preliminary charges police filed against Alam.

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

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

He is being investigated for allegedly violating Bangladesh’s internet laws, enacted in 2006 and sharpened in 2013, which critics say are used to stifle 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 if convicted, along with others detained during the protests.

The photographer told reporters outside court last month 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 has demanded his release, denouncing authorities for targeting activists and journalists instead of prosecuting those who attacked students when last month’s protests were broken up.

On Monday the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, used her first statement to touch upon the attacks and arrests of journalists in Bangladesh.

“The Government should do more to ensure freedom of expression, which is indispensable for free and fair elections,” she said, as Bangladesh prepares to hold polls in December this year.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.