Release Shahidul Alam immediately from arbitrary detention

shahidul alam bangladesh photographer arrested 1

His Excellency Masud Bin Momen,
Ambassador and Permanent Representative,
630, 1st Avenue, Apt. 35L,
Manhattan Place Condominium,
New York,


Dear Mr.Masud Bin Momen,

I am William Nicholas Gomes, Human rights defender and Freelance journalist.

I am writing to voice my deep concern about the arbitrary arrest of an award-winning photographer, academic and human rights defender Shahidul Alam.

I have been informed by The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT),FIDH and Front Line Defenders about the arbitrary detention and torture of Mr. Shahidul Alam, photographer and founder of the Drik photo agency and of the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute. Mr. Shahidul Alam has been documenting the student protests over road safety, which have been ongoing in the country for more than a week and which have been violently repressed by the Government, with more than 100 students injured over the weekend.

According to the information received, on August 5, 2018 at around 10.30 pm, Mr. Shahidul Alam was forcibly taken from his house in Dhanmondi, Dhaka, by a group of men in plain clothes, who identified themselves as officers of the Detective Branch (DB) of the Police. Mr. Shahidul Alam’s house was searched and all the CCTV cameras were destroyed.

His whereabouts have remained unknown until August 6, 2018, when Mr. Shahidul Alam was brought to the Dhaka court by Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Asaduzzaman Noor, where he was interrogated regarding allegations that he gave false information to the media and for so-called “provocative comments”. These accusations are related to an interview that Mr. Shahidul Alam gave to Al Jazeera on the situation in Bangladesh and to his Facebook posts over the ongoing student protests.

Mr. Shahidul Alam was remanded to custody for seven days in a case filed under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, which over the past years has been used to arrest and prosecute several journalists who have criticised the Government.

During the hearing, Mr. Shahidul Alam reported he had been tortured in custody, and was not able to walk without support. According to his own words, the police officers made him wash his bloodied clothes before making him wear them again.

I recall that these extremely concerning events have taken place in a general context of crackdown against civil society in Bangladesh, with twelve other journalists and hundreds of students having been attacked by pro-government forces in the last three days. Several of them have been arrested under Section 57 of the ICT Act.

I strongly condemn the arbitrary detention and torture of Mr. Shahidul Alam as they clearly aim at punishing him for his peaceful and legitimate human rights activities.

I urge the authorities of Bangladesh to immediately release Mr. Shahidul Alam and put an end to all acts of torture, ill-treatment and harassment, including at the judicial level, against him. I further call for a thorough, impartial, and transparent investigation into the above-mentioned allegations of torture in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and sanction them as provided by the law.

Action requested:

  1. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Shahidul Alam as well as of all human rights defenders in Bangladesh;

  2. Release Mr. Shahidul Alam immediately and unconditionally since his detention is arbitrary and only aims at sanctioning his legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights;

  3. Put an end to any kind of harassment – including at the judicial level – against Mr. Shahidul Alam and more generally against all human rights defenders in Bangladesh and ensure that they are able to carry out their peaceful and legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

  4. Take all necessary measures to guarantee his physical and psychological integrity and security and integrity, as well as that of his family and ensure that the treatment of Shahidul Alam, while in detention, adheres to the conditions set out in the “Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment”, adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 43/173 of 9 December 1988;

  5. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into any instances of torture against Shahidul Alam with a view to publishing the results of any such investigation and bringing the perpetrators to justice in line with Bangladesh’s international human rights obligations;

  6. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially regarding the following Articles:

  • Article 1: everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels;

  • Article 5 (a): For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels (a) To meet or assemble peacefully;

  • Article 12.2: the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of his or her rights […];

  1. Ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Bangladesh.

Yours sincerely,

William Nicholas Gomes
Journalist and Human Rights Activist
York, United Kingdom


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