Calls are continuing to grow for the release of award-winning photographer and social activist Shahidul Alam who was detained by Bangladeshi police for "provocative comments" about student-led protests in the country.

The protests that set this story into motion quickly morphed into something larger, more political. And with an election coming later this year, it's a politically sensitive time there.

"The government's approach is to control the narrative as well as the situation, according to Ikhtisad Ahmed, a contributor at Scroll, an online news magazine from India. "Situations they control with violence. Narrative they control by silencing any form of dissent so that the only message you are getting is what the government is saying."

The Rohingya crisis has put Bangladesh in the spotlight, so "They do not want the international community to know about the other bad things that this government is doing," explains Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch. "And therefore, when Shahidul Alam raised those concerns, they clearly felt that this was undermining their image internationally."

When he goes to trial, Shahidul Alam is likely to be charged under the Information, Communications and Technology Act, a law passed in 2006.

Sheikh Hasina's government took power in 2009 and amended the law four years later. The changes it made to Section 57, dealing with content people post online - and the frequent prosecutions since - have been criticised by media watch NGOs outside Bangladesh and protested by free speech activists inside the country.

Some of the online content posted by individuals or groups in Bangladesh has been extremely inflammatory, resulting in violence which in turn resulted in Bangladeshis being killed.

However Section 57 is so vaguely worded, it allows the authorities to prosecute the government's critics easily and selectively.

"What the government seems to be doing is using that as a pretext to clamp down much more widely on any kind of criticism as a way of intimidating and scaring people, so they won't comment on social media in the in the future," says journalist David Bergman.

The arrest of Shahidul Alam, the silencing of one voice; the chilling of others is something the government knew would draw criticism.

It's a price that, in an election year, the authorities were clearly willing to pay for a message they seemingly wanted to send. The heat is on in Bangladesh. And journalists are among the many who are feeling it.


Meenakshi Ganguly - South Asia director, Human Rights Watch

David Bergman - journalist

Bangladeshi journalist (anonymous)

Ikhtisad Ahmed - author of Yours, Etcetera and contributor to Scroll

Hasanul Haq Inu - Bangladeshi minister of information

Source: Al Jazeera