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Bangladesh court suspends case against outspoken photographer

March 14, 2019

An investigation into celebrated photographer Shahidul Alam was suspended by a Bangladesh court Thursday, after his arrest last year on controversial charges for criticising the government attracted global outrage.

Alam was arrested in a midnight raid in August and held under draconian internet laws which critics say have been wielded by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to stifle dissent and harass journalists.

The award-winning photographer was charged with making “false” and “provocative” statements in a televised interview, offences carrying a maximum 14 years in jail.

He was jailed for 107 days — the photographer said he was badly beaten while in custody — and denied bail four times before being freed in November.

His lawyers said Thursday the investigation into Alam, 63, was suspended by the High Court for three months — a first step toward charges being dropped.

Bangladesh’s attorney general said the government would appeal the decision.

“We will do that as soon as the court resumes next week,” Deputy Attorney General Moklesur Rahman told AFP.

Alam’s detention sparked global outrage and became a closely watched freedom of speech case.

It also shone a spotlight on the laws used to charge him, legislation that rights groups say has given authorities free rein to curb freedom of expression.

That internet legislation he was charged under was replaced in October by the Digital Security Act, which critics said was even more repressive.

Alam’s legal team successfully argued their client’s case had been handled incorrectly.

“The case was filed under an abolished law,” Sara Hossain, one of Alam’s lawyers, told AFP.

The photographer’s arrest triggered international protests — with rights groups, Nobel laureates and academics calling for his release — and followed a series of mass rallies this summer after two teenagers were killed by a speeding bus.

The massive protests evolved into broader demonstrations against Hasina, who has jailed her political opponents and journalists critical of her rule in the South Asian nation of 160 million.

Hasina won a third consecutive term in December when her Awami League won 288 seats in the 300-seat parliament in a vote married by allegations of vote rigging.

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