By Maskwaith Ahsan;
World renowned photographer and human rights activist Shahidul Alam was unlawfully picked up by a law enforcement agency (LEA) during the Road Safety movement in Dhaka. He was later produced in court which easily remanded him into the custody of the same LEA without so much as inquiring into the nature of Shahidul Alam’s abduction. The government alleges that Alam used his interview to Al-Jazeera TV and his Facebook Live to spread ‘rumours’ against the government. No one, however, has been able to explain why for this alleged offence Alam was picked by in the middle of the night illegally and in a barbaric manner from his home rather than being arrested in daylight following proper protocol.
Such abductions of government critics and if they are lucky, producing them in court after the fact is the most unlawful and objectionable practice of the Sheikh Hasina regime. This illegal and disproportionate use of power and body-language shows that the government considers the people of Bangladesh its subjects, not citizens. The way criticizing a medieval king was considered treason the same seems to be true of the Hasina regime.
Alam is an internationally well-known and respected man; many intellectuals and artists from around the globe have voiced concern about his fate and health. But just as the government feels it’s not accountable for the dozens of less-known missing citizens, so does it feel unfazed by any international pressure to answer for this lawlessness.
According to legal rights advocacy group Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), at least 310 people have disappeared in Bangladesh between 2014 and 2018. Of them, dead bodies of 44 were found, 33 returned alive, and 45 were later shown arrested. The rest still remain disappeared.
The trial of Alam is under process, and hence is a sub judice matter but the adviser to the Prime Minister and her own son, Sajeeb Wazed Joy, unconcerned with any legality has already pronounced Alam ‘guilty’ in his recent article. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has also stated that she will not surrender to any international pressure on this matter.
In India, too, under the reign of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, several intellectuals have been arrested on ‘treason’ charges. Luckily, India still has a better and independent judicial system; recognizing that those intellectuals are prisoners of conscience the court has ordered that they been placed under house arrest, and not sent to jail like common criminals. Indian judges, meanwhile, are repeatedly trying to drive home the point that being against the government is not the same as being against the state.
In his interview to Al-Jazeera TV, Alam spoke against the Hasina regime, not Bangladesh. The “horror” and “reality” that Shahidul narrated during the Road Safety movement can be found in photos and videos available online, where unlawful LEA action against the protestors can be seen, where stooges of the party-in-power can be seen helping police in perpetrating violence and party hooligans visible in action against journalists to stop live coverage of the movement. The so-called ‘rumour’ for which the Hasina government is punishing ordinary and innocent citizens is nothing but a by-product of the very media censorship imposed during the Road Safety campaign.
To perpetrate fear, many students and women were arrested for spreading this so-called ‘rumour’ and then later freed. The silencing process has apparently worked well. Anyone who prefers to live violence-free will have to accept the “reality” as mere “rumour”.
The detention and trial of Alam is part of the same silencing process; to show that if a renowned person can be prosecuted, ordinary citizens stand no chance at all. Again, a reflection of medieval tactics.
And, now a look at the road safety situation in Bangladesh since the violent quashing of the movement. During the recent Eid festival (Aug 16-28, 2018), 237 accidents took place across the country leaving 259 dead and 960 wounded.
These figures are not rumours but reality, yet no one resigned and no one has taken any responsibility. Not one but three ministers recently resigned in Bulgaria after an accident that left 17 dead. One simplistic reason behind this contrast could be that in practicing modern democracy the government of Bulgaria treats common men as citizens whereas in practicing medieval state system the government of Bangladesh treats common men as its subjects.