Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling on the Bangladeshi authorities to ensure the safety of journalists after a dark day for press freedom on August 5, when at least 23 reporters were attacked by government supporters while covering student protests in Dhaka and one, award-winning photojournalist Shahidul Alam, was later arrested.
The Dhaka metropolitan police have been holding Alam ever since the evening of August 5, when plainclothes officers forcibly took him from his apartment in Dhanmondi, a residential district, several hours after he posted a photo and comment about the student protests on Facebook.
Detective Branch additional commissioner Abdul Baten confirmed Alam’s arrest. Masudur Rahman, the deputy commissioner for media, said detectives were questioning him about his Facebook posts on the ongoing student protests.
“The Dhaka authorities are entirely responsible for ensuring Shahidul Alam’s physical integrity and safety,” RSF said. “We urge Bangladesh’s highest authorities to guarantee his safety and to free him immediately without charge.”
A Bangladeshi-born British citizen, Alam is the founder of Drik Picture Library and the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute. According to the Drik, witnesses saw his arrest by 30 to 35 plainclothesmen identifying themselves as members of the Detective Branch.
They entered his apartment building, brought him down and bundled him into an unmarked car. At the same time, they taped up the building’s CCTV cameras, removed the hard disks containing CCTV footage, and locked the building’s security guards into their room. All this took place at around 10 p.m., the Drik said.
Earlier in the day, Alam was attacked by suspected members of the ruling Awami League’s student wing, the Bangladesh Chhatra League, while videoing violence against students demonstrating in Dhanmondi for better road safety. He then took shelter at a guesthouse in Dhanmondi from where he went live on Facebook to share the incident.
“I was attacked a little while ago near City College because I was taking a video of Chhatra League students shouting ‘Joy Bangla’ and slightly before that attacking students,” he said in a video clip that went viral. He uploaded a photo of his vandalized camera on Facebook, with the caption “Remains of my OSMO” and hashtagged “we want justice.”
Later, in an interview for Al Jazeera English, he was very critical about the government’s role in the ongoing student movement. The video of the interview also went viral in Facebook and Twitter.
The entire Bangladeshi journalistic profession was targeted on 5 August, when at least 23 reporters were injured in deliberate attacks by members of the ruling party and its student wing while covering the widespread protests about road safety. Their assailants were armed with machetes, steel bars and sticks and wore motorcycle helmets.
Bangladesh is ranked 146th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.