New Delhi: Much to the relief of well-known Dhaka-based photographer Shahidul Alam, the Bangladesh Supreme Court has upheld the Dhaka high court’s order that stayed further probe in a case filed by the government under the Information and Communication Act.
On August 5, 2018, Alam, the founder of the popular Drik Gallery and Pathshala South Asia Media Institute, was picked up from his residence in Dhaka’s posh Dhanmondi area under the Section 57 of the Act – a section that was recently repealed. After he published photos of a students’ demonstration in the city against deaths due to bad traffic management, and for road safety, the 63-year-old was charged with ‘spreading disinformation’.
The arrest triggered outrage against the government’s action both within and outside the country.
After 107 days, the high court ordered his release on bail. Five days after the court order was passed, he was set free on November 20.
On March 3, Alam filed a writ petition in the high court challenging the legality of the charges brought against him. On March 14, the high court stayed the investigation in the case. The court also reportedly issued a rule “asking the government why the continuation of probing the case should not be declared illegal, and contradictory to the Digital Security Act, 2018 of the Constitution”.
Dhaka-based media reported on August 18 that a four-member appellate division of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, also asked the high court bench, led by Justice Moyeel Islam Chowdhury, “to dispose of rule by December 18”.
Reacting to the apex court order, Alam’s lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua told reporters, “By this order, the stay order on investigation of the case filed against Shahidul remains same.”
Alam, in an email response, told The Wire that his biggest fear was a judiciary whose freedom had been curtailed. “At a time when the major institutions of state have been turned into extensions of the ruling party, and with notable exceptions, architects, writers, university teachers, artists, poets, professional bodies and the media have become mouthpieces of the government, the biggest fear is the erosion of the independence of the judiciary,” he wrote.
He further added, “It is comforting to see the higher courts taking the right decision, knowing it might displease the government. I am accused of provoking and instigating students through my online reporting. Had there been any evidence, it would have been in the public domain. Yet, over a year after my arrest, torture and period in jail, the prosecution has not even been able to frame charges. I salute the judiciary for their independent decision. They are the one of the few hopes that Bangladesh has left.”