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Category: politics

‘You are guilty because we say so.’ 

The imprisonment of Odhikar’s Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan 

The humiliation of being put in that cage was not lost on anyone. Odhikar’s Secretary Adilur Rahman Khan and Director ASM Nasiruddin Elan had been there before, as indeed had I. Multiple times, on some occasions because the judge wanted to see me inside again. His sadistic pleasure in putting me back in the cage, on public display. The rambling judgement at the end of Odhikar’s case could have been reduced to two sentences. “You are guilty because we say so. You will go to jail, because we can.” 

I knew Adil and Elan through my crossfire exhibition, a show I had produced in 2010 based on extensive research by Momena Jalil, Fariha Karim and others of the Drik team. We were to open the show on 22nd March 2010, but the government intervened. Apparently, we had no right to show our own artwork in our own gallery without special government permission. We had asked which law this was stipulated by, but they weren’t able to produce any. Riot police came over anyway and closed down our gallery. Mahasweta Devi, the fiery Indian writer and activist had flown over to open the show. Nurul Kabir, one of the bravest editors Bangladesh has seen and one who still has the spine to resist publishing government propaganda, was also one of the speakers. With armed police surrounding the gallery, we resorted to opening the show in the streets of Dhanmondi outside our office.  

Police prevent human rights defender Adilur Rahman Khan from raising his fist in a show of defiance, as he enters prison van. Adil succeeded in breaking free and raising his clenched fist. 14th September 2023. Outside Judge Court. Dhaka. Photo: Dipu Malakar/Prothom Alo

করোনাকালের করুণা খান

এই গল্পের সাথে কেউ কোন চরিত্র মিলাইবেন না। যে মিলাইবেন দায় তার… কয়া দিলাম কিন্তু…. করোনার প্রকোপে আর কিছু না হোক আমি যে পাগল হইতেছি…

The journalist who got too close

‘REPEAT a lie often enough and it becomes the truth’, is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. The Bangladesh government seems to have studied Goebbels’ book well. The lies generally come in the form of denials. ‘No, we have not been involved in “crossfire” and “disappearances”.’ ‘There is no political motive.’ ‘No one will be spared.’ ‘The elections were fair.’ ‘The judiciary is independent,’ the list goes on. The lies are repeated ad nauseam in political rallies, in talk shows, in press briefings and through social media trolls.

Shafiqul Islam Kajol photographed by his son Monorom Polok

‘We do not condone any such incident and will bring the responsible officials to justice’ said the foreign minister Dipu Moni at the Universal Periodic Review of Bangladesh at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 4, 2009 in response to accusations that the government was involved in ‘crossfire,’ a Bangladeshi euphemism for extra-judicial killings. She added that the government would show ‘zero tolerance’ to extra-judicial killings, or torture and death in custody. Indeed, doing so was part of the election campaign for the Bangladesh Awami League when they were in the opposition. As often happens however, once elected, their position changed, and ‘crossfire’ has become so integral to the Bangladeshi lingo that MPs now use the term in parliament, ‘You are allowing crossfire as part of a fight against drugs. Then why aren’t you doing the same in case of rape?’

The Price of Social Distancing

Rahnuma forwarded me Laily’s wrenching FaceBook post. Her father is dying, far away in a UK hospital. Heart breaking, holding back tears, she and her family watch from afar. Unable to touch, to hold, to caress the person who is dearest to them. This is what Corona means in real terms. It was through her research on one of my heroes, the peasant leader Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, and later through them staying at the Pathshala Guest House, that we got to know her. Bhashani’s principle of putting nation before self and his simple lifestyle is a very distant reality from the ruling politicians of today. Despite its pain, Laily’s post reminded me of my own dad and my childhood. I remembered dad resting in his easy chair. His belly just the right slope for us kids to use as a living slide. We used to call him bhalluk (bear), and every day as he rested after lunch, my cousins and I would line up behind the easy chair, clamber up to his shoulders and slide down his belly. Mum would freak out, as my dad had osteomyelitis as a child and had never fully recovered. His shins were always exposed and very fragile. Quite apart from wanting him to rest, the idea that we might aggravate his injury worried her. Abba was unperturbed, happy to be teddy bear to a room full of kids. We’d run back to the end of the queue to slide down again. We were always tired before Abba ever did. We didn’t think of it as physical contact in those days. When Abba died, I remember feeling the stubble that had grown on his soft skin, as I stroked him before we laid him down.

Newcomers to Bangladesh are overwhelmed by the generosity of our village folk. They love it when strangers clasp their hands, but are somewhat unsure when seconds, sometimes minutes pass, before their hands are reluctantly released. Years ago, when we at Drik were trying to improve our English skills, we struck a deal with the local office of the British Council. Unable to pay for the expensive English classes, we negotiated a barter. We would do their photography. They in turn, would teach us English. It wasn’t just language skills though, it was learning English culture. One of the first things our English teachers told us was to release the hand quickly! Prolonged physical contact could make the English squirm.

Workers sleeping in shipbreaking yard in Rahman Yard in Chittagong. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Obituary of a Democracy

In an interview with Shahidul Alam from his hospital bed, Chief Coordinator of Ganosamhati Andolon, Zonayed Saki, talks about the attack by police which left over fifty of his comrades injured. General Secretary of Biplobi Workers’ Party Saiful Haq was also injured. They were protesting the rigged elections on 30 December 2018. Opposition activists remember 30 December  for the ‘Death of Democracy’.

I am Zonayed Saki. I am the chief coordinator of Gonosamhati Andolon.
Gonosamhati Andolon is a political party in Bangladesh working for the rights of people.
You all know that in Bangladesh on the 30th December 2018, the election that took place was a vote robbery.
There has never before been an election like this in Bangladesh. Most ballots were stamped the previous night, and they filled up the ballot boxes.
And the entire state machinery was used towards this vote robbery.
There has never been a previous instance where this has happened in Bangladesh, because the Prime Minister had, prior to the election, had discussions with all political parties of Bangladesh.

The Tide Will Turn

Shahidul Alam: The Tide Will Turn

Edited by Vijay Prashad

Texts by Shahidul Alam and Arundhati Roy

To my fellow prisoners in Keraniganj Jail, and the youth of Bangladesh who continue to resist, and to Abrar Farhad who was murdered by fellow students for his defiance.
Book design by Shahidul Alam and Holger Feroudj / Steidl Design
184 pages
7.3 x 9.3 in. / 18.5 x 23.5 cm
37 black-and-white and 74 colour photographs Four-colour process
Clothbound hardcover
€ 28.00 / £ 25.00 / US$ 30.00
ISBN 978-3-95829-693-0

A Bangladeshi policeman gags photographer Shahidul Alam to prevent him from speaking to the press during a court appearance 6 August 2018. Photo courtesy Suvra Kanti Das

“On the night of 5 August, I did not know if I was going to live or die,” writes Shahidul Alam, one of Bangladesh’s most respected photo- journalists, essayists and social activists, remembering his arrest, torture and eventual 101-day incarceration in Keraniganj Jail in 2018. Just a few hours before, he had given a television interview criticising the government’s brutal handling of the student protests of that year which had called for improved road safety and an end to wider social injustice—in his words, “the years of misrule, the corruption, the wanton killing, the wealth amassed by the ruling coterie.” Combining Alam’s photos and texts with those of a range of collaborators, including artwork by Sofia Karim and fellow inmates, The Tide Will Turn documents his experiences, the global support for his release, and the ongoing fight for secularism and democracy in Bangladesh and beyond.

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Described by its editor Vijay Prashad as about “the beauty and tragedy of our world, about how to photograph that dialectic,
and about how to write about it,”