South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Award-winning photojournalist and human rights activist Shahidul Alam was arrested in August 2018 shortly after appearing on Al Jazeera to discuss anti-government student protests.

After 107 days in jail, Alam was released, but could still face a prison sentence of 14 years in prison over violations of what human rights groups have called a repressive digital security law, which gives the Bangladeshi police the power to monitor people’s online activity and arrest critics without warrants.

He is currently challenging the legality of that law in the High Court.

“It’s about freedom of expression and certainly that is the main stake of any democracy,” Alam told UpFront. “If we lose this case then it will be a very very poor signal for journalists and people at large.”

Asked whether Bangladesh was still a functioning democracy, Alam said: “Not in the way it operates … It’s an autocracy by any means. It has been for some time … I left Bangladesh in 1972, a free country. I came back to find a military dictator. There was an election, we tried to bring down the general, but elections didn’t lead to a democratic process, and none of the political parties we’ve had have practised democracy since then.”

“I think pretty much all the regimes we’ve had in the past have played the same role. It’s just that it’s at a level today which we’ve never had before.”

In this special interview, we ask Alam whether Bangladesh is sliding towards autocracy, why the government is trying to silence him, and what is at stake for Bangladeshis if he loses his case.


Updated On: 20 Apr 2019