Bangladesh police arrested an award-winning photographer for “provocative comments” allegedly made in media interviews about student protests that have gripped the country for more than a week.
At least 20 plain-clothes officers picked up Shahidul Alam, 63, at his Dhaka home late on Sunday, hours after his comments were broadcast on Al Jazeera.
“He has been brought to our office early this morning [Monday]. We are interrogating him for giving false information to different media and for provocative comments,” police official Moshiur Rahman said. “And he could not give proper answers. He admitted that these are his personal opinion.”
Police told lawyers and family friends Alam will likely be charged under the International Communication and Technology Act (ICT) on Monday.
“It is an unclear situation as no one has been able to meet him but the police … told us that a case is being filed against him and he will be taken to the court today,” said Shireen Huq, a close friend of Alam and a well-known women’s rights activist.
Al Jazeera’s Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting later from Dhaka, said Alam had been charged under section 57 of ICT for spreading propaganda against the government. He has been remanded into police custody for seven days.
“He will be under detective custody on interrogation,” Chowdhury said, adding that a video posted on social media purportedly showed Alam taken to court.
“He was visibly limping, two people had to hold him. We don’t know why is this the case but this is what the video [posted on social media] showed,” he added.
Rights groups demanded Alam’s immediate release.
“There is no justification whatsoever for detaining anyone for solely peacefully expressing their views. His arrest marks a dangerous escalation of a crackdown by the government that has seen the police and vigilantes unleash violence against student protesters,” said Omar Waraich from Amnesty International.
The demonstrations began after a speeding bus killed two teenagers on July 29, with student protesters pressing the government to make the country’s chaotic and lethal roads more safe.
Alam told Al Jazeera on Sunday the demonstrators were driven by “larger” factors than road safety alone.
He highlighted “the looting of the banks, the gaggling of the media, the extrajudicial killings, disappearings, bribery and corruption”.
“Today the police specifically asked for help from armed goons to combat unarmed students demanding safe roads,” said Alam. “The government has miscalculated. It thought that fear and repression would be enough but you cannot tame an entire nation in this manner.”
Recently, Alam shot images of the demonstrations by tens of thousands of teenagers in Dhaka and beyond, and discussed the protests on Facebook Live.
Protests – along with police and pro-government vigilante responses – continued in Dhaka on Monday, Al Jazeera’s Tanvir Chowdhury reported.
Students demonstrating outside a university were met with volleys of tear gas and after retreating back into the campus they were “now under siege”.
“There are clashes going on as we speak,” he said. “It’s still quite volatile and intense.”
On Saturday, more than 100 protesters were injured as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, and mobs attacked demonstrators, photographers and even the US ambassador’s car.
More violence raged on Sunday with police firing tear gas into a large crowd marching towards an office of the ruling Awami League party.
“The Bangladeshi government must end the crackdown on the student protesters and people speaking out against it. The students have a right to peaceful assembly and physical security,” Waraich said.
The authorities have shut down mobile internet services across swaths of the country and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called on students on Sunday to go home.
The United Nations said it was “deeply concerned about the reports of violence”.
Police also arrested an actress after a Facebook post saying two protesters had been killed, and the eye of another was gouged out.
David Bergman contributed to this report