Shahidul Alam: Caught in the Crossfire of Bangladesh’s Fledgling Democracy

DHAKA, BANGLADESH, 10/16/2018 © SK HASAN ALI / SHUTTERSTOCK

By Rachel Spence in Fair Observer •   OCTOBER 24, 2018

How do you persuade a government to release a prisoner, however wrongfully incarcerated, if it doesn’t want to cooperate?

Thousands of signatures, tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts. Dozens of articles. Then there are the rallies: from Kathmandu to New York, from Rome to New Delhi, London to Mumbai. Week by week, hundreds of people are gathering in public spaces to protest against the incarceration in Dhaka, Bangladesh, of photographer, journalist, teacher and activist Shahidul Alam.

Among the most headline-grabbing initiatives is Wasfia Nazreen’s sky-high stunt. The mountaineer and social activist — the first Bangladeshi to climb the Seven Summits — flew over Manhattan in an airplane trailing a banner that read “Free Shahidul Alam. Free our teachers.” Another high-profile intervention was made by artist Tania Bruguera, who was herself locked up in her native Cuba after she offended the state censors, and recently devoted her Tate Modern exhibition in London to a display of Alam’s photographs. “What keeps you going when you’re in prison,” Bruguera told me, “are your principles. And the support of others around you.” Continue reading “Shahidul Alam: Caught in the Crossfire of Bangladesh’s Fledgling Democracy”

Speeding Along on Digital Bullock Carts

It was in the early nineties. Having decided we would create a platform for local photographers, it made no sense to set up our agency in the conventional marketplaces of London, Paris or New York. We had to be where the storytellers were, here in Dhaka. But we also needed to be connected with our buyers. International phone lines were difficult to get, and the calls were expensive. Sending photos by courier was clumsy, slow and prohibitively costly. Alternatives needed to be found. The judging of World Press Photo in Amsterdam provided an opportunity to link up with TOOL, an NGO in the Netherlands that specialized in providing appropriate technology in Majority World countries.

Traditional bullock cart race in Bangladesh. Photo: DrikNews

Together we decided to set up a South-South network of like-minded organisations using off-line Email. We assembled our own scanner. We also developed an electronic postbox which allowed us to link up with the Internet. Other providers, Pradeshta and Agni were also trying to get onto the digital highway. Each of us found our own solution, but our off-line email using FidoNet technology became one of the precursors of the digital revolution in Bangladesh. We called it DrikTAP (Drik TOOL Access Point). Continue reading “Speeding Along on Digital Bullock Carts”

The Guardians: Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018

Shahidul Alam, one of the journalists collectively considered the Time Person of the Year 2018. Photo Moises Sam/Magnum for Time

This year brought no shortage of other examples. Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam was jailed for more than 100 days for making “false” and “provocative” statements after criticizing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in an interview about mass protests in Dhaka Continue reading “The Guardians: Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018”

Doing the Bhangra Down India Gate

Where’s your bicycle? The Uber driver asked me jokingly. Yes, I had been known in photography circles and it is true that I did know a few Nobel Laureates. Given that I am a public speaker, and wear several hats, I do also come across the odd head of state, or celebrity. I’d be overstating it if I said they all knew me well. I have featured prominently in a film produced by Sharon Stone, but the long conversation on the phone, after my release, was very much an exception. But now that I have Uber drivers recognizing me, and people stopping me in the streets for selfies, I need to be careful I don’t trip over my own ego. Maybe I should be thanking the same person that everyone else thanks for everything that ever happens in Bangladesh.

I flatly deny making payments to the Bangladesh government for running a media campaign on my behalf. Neither is it true that I deliberately planted the inconsistencies in their fake news, making it appear they can’t tell a Kaffiey from a tablecloth. Let’s not get too technical. It started with me being a Mossad agent and taking money from Israel. Now I’ve been placed in the Al Qaeda farm, and definitely anti Israel. Considering that Israel is the one country that my government does not have diplomatic relationships with, and the only country my passport is not valid for, being anti Israel should theoretically make me a pal. My enemy’s enemy is my friend and all that.

Screen shot of Arundhati Roy and Shahidul Alam in Blitz taken on December 19
Continue reading “Doing the Bhangra Down India Gate”

Propaganda, and the suppression of dissent

rahnuma ahmed

I have not acquired any fortune but I have my paternal estate and the pension of a Subedar. This is enough for me. The people in my village seem to respect me, and are now fully satisfied with the ease and benefits they enjoy under British rule.

Thus wrote Sita Ram in From Sepoy to Subedar, first published in 1873, sixteen years after the first war of independence (the British still refer to it as the Indian Rebellion, or the Indian Mutiny).

Sita Ram wrote the manuscript at the bidding of his commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Norgate in 1861, his son passed it on to the Englishman; the manuscript is supposed to have been written in Awadhi, Norgate translated it into English. An Urdu translation is also heard to have surfaced the same year. Few copies are known to have been sold, until 1911 that is, when a Colonel Phillott created a new syllabus for Hindustani exams, taken by colonial officers to test their knowledge of the language. Phillott himself translated the book into Urdu, and from then onwards, the autobiography of Sita Ram, who worked in the Bengal Native Army of the East India Company for forty-eight years (1812 to 1860)—became a ‘key text’ for British officers. The book was still part of the curriculum in the 1940s, it was translated into Devanagari in the same decade; a new and illustrated edition of the book (Norgate’s English translation), was brought out by James Lunt, as late as 1970. Continue reading “Propaganda, and the suppression of dissent”

The Best Years of My Life

Best Years of My Life
Press release
German Foreign Office and Neue Galerie Berlin will present Shahidul Alam at Deutsche Welle?s Global Media Forum and at the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Berlin.
 
With the book publication and the exhibition ?The best years of my life. Bangladeshi Migrants in Malaysia? the international well-known photographer and activist Shahidul Alam will be present on Monday, June 19, 2017 through the Neue Galerie Berlin and with the support of the German Foreign Office on the Global Media Forum of the Deutsche Welle. After the end of the forum in Bonn, the exhibition will be on display at the German Foreign Office in Berlin from Thursday, June 23, 2017, and will be part of the Global Forum on Migration and Development from 28 to 30 June. The Finissage will be published on 30 June 2017 at the Federal Foreign Office with a greeting from the State Secretary Dr. Markus Ederer within the framework of the GFMD. The artist will be present in Bonn and Berlin and will be available for questions and interviews. Further information on the exhibition and the artist in the appendix.
 
As an additional digital component, the Neue Galerie Berlin, together with the technology partner snap2live, presents the newly developed image recognition app ?Neue Galerie Berlin?. All pictures of the Alam exhibition can be scanned with the app (tentatively available on Android). Behind the pictures
 
About
In 2016 Tanja von Unger founded the Neue Galerie Berlin (www.neuegalerieberlin.de).
To provide a relevant platform beyond photography the businessmodel
also collaborates with publishing groups and institutions and is known for its groundbreaking presentation of photographers and their works at economic conferences and events such as the Economic Summit of the Su?ddeutsche Zeitung, Falling Walls Conference, Rheingauer Economic Forum, Global Solutions G 20 Conference of the Dieter von Holtzbrinck publishers.
 
Snap2Life create apps for companies in the media, publishing, automotive, business, sports and advertising sectors. Most of these apps are equipped with our innovative image recognition functionality, which we also provide as an API for integration into other apps. In a fraction of seconds we connect the offline world with any kind of relevant content from the online world.
 
The Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum (GMF) is the Place Made for Minds, where decision makers and influencers from all over the world come together. It?s the global platform put on by Deutsche Welle and its partners and the place where you can connect and strengthen relations with over 2,000 inspiring representatives from the fields of journalism, digital media, politics, culture, business, development, academia and civil society. The conference provides a unique opportunity to network, get inspired and collaborate using a wide variety of state-of-the-art formats.
http://www.dw.com/en/global-media-forum/global-media-forum/s-101219
 
?Towards a Global Social Contract on Migration and Development?
Tenth Global Forum on Migration and Development Summit 28 to 30 June 2017, Berlin
Germany and Morocco have assumed the co-chairmanship of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) from 1 January 2017 until 31 December 2018. During this two-year period, the focus will be on the contribution of the GFMD to the United Nations? Global Compact on Migration. The Compact is intended to constitute a strong signal of the international community for an enhanced global migration policy, to be adopted by the community of states in 2018.
https://gfmd.org

RESISTING RAMPAL

‘Go back NTPC, get out India’
rahnuma ahmed

Dhaka, Bangladesh, August 20, 2016. ? Taslima Akhter
Dhaka, Bangladesh, August 20, 2016. ? Taslima Akhter

Of all the slogans raised in protest against the coal power plant being built at Rampal in Bagerhat, this one’s the best. Continue reading “RESISTING RAMPAL”

Why Biman Fails

The long queue outside is nowadays usual. But I was unperturbed. I had come in early and there were the Hajj passengers to photograph. The cat strolling through the airport was somewhat amusing. A man, who could have been Chinese, gave it some food. The cat knew his way around the place. I had found cat pooh on several occasions before, but now I had the source file!
Alarm bells should have rung when I found no notice of the flight on the electronic board. The lack of people at the Biman counter was a bigger case for alarm. My friend Porimol, a journalist from the Daily Star, who was also going to Kathmandu was in the queue. At least I was in the right place! It could have just been “Biman Time” I convinced myself. When no one had turned up by 10:00 am, we all went off to the Biman Sales counter. At least there was a Biman employee there. “We have had nothing official” they said, but hear that the flight might be cancelled. They had no arrangements for rerouting, or any other arrangement. Their excuse for not letting passengers know had some logic. Since they themselves hadn’t been told, what could they tell us?

No attempt to inform passengers that flight BG701 to #Kathmandu cancelled #whybimanfails #eavig #Biman #bangladesh

A photo posted by Shahidul Alam (@shahidul001) on

Continue reading “Why Biman Fails”

HUMAN CHAIN: Protest against the murder of Photographer and Drik Employee 'Irfanul Islam'

Irfanul Islam
Irfanul Islam

 
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Dear All,
Drik Picture Library and Pathshala South Asian Media Institute will initiate to form a Human chain at T.S.C, Dhaka University on 9th?April, 2016,?Saturday?at?3.30pm?for the protest against the murder of Photographer and Drik Employee ?Irfanul Islam? who was kidnapped and murdered on 2 April, 2016. Photographers will wrap black cloth on their camera and other participants will wear a black badge and show protest placard.
We are requesting you all to take part in this protest and please note your presence and support is?VERY IMPORTANT.?

HISTORY AS ETHICAL REMEMBRANCE

Dhaka University, Shaheed Minar and CP Gang?s ?bessha? banner
by Rahnuma Ahmed

Prologue
The online group CP Gang?s banner reads (translated) ?Resist these so-called civil [society] liars and anti-Independence intellectual prostitutes in order to uphold the true history of the liberation war to the younger generation.? Those whose faces are crossed out are, from left to right, journalist Mahfuzullah, Dhaka University professors Asif Nazrul and Amena Mohsin, North South university professor Dilara Chowdhury, lawyer Tuhin Malik, writer and columnist Farhad Mazhar, Saptahik editor Golam Mortuza, New Age editor Nurul Kabir, and daily Manabzamin editor Motiur Rahman Chowdhury. A human chain at the Central Shaheed Minar organised by the Muktijoddha Sangsad Santan Command, Dhaka on October 17, 2014.
THIS story begins with the sudden and unexpected death of professor Piash Karim on October 13, 2014, of cardiac arrest. Piash, who had returned to Dhaka in 2007 after teaching for nearly two decades at an American university, had joined BRAC University and was teaching in the department of economics and social sciences. Dr Amena Mohsin, professor of international relations at Dhaka University, and Piash Karim got married in March 2013; high-school student Drabir Karim, Piash?s son from his first marriage, was part of their family. Earlier known in his circle of friends for his left-leaning views, Piash gradually gravitated towards the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, a centrist party and the ruling Awami League?s arch-enemy. He began frequenting television talk shows, popular, as no real debate takes place in the parliament. (The popularity of TV talk shows has drastically declined, however, with the silent black-listing of dissident voices; a couple of analysts have reportedly left the country). His comment that the Ganajagaran Mancha ? initially composed of a small group of bloggers and activists calling for the hanging of war criminals of 1971, later mushrooming into a sea of people at Shahbagh square in Dhaka city and spreading nationwide ? was developing ?fascist? undertones, earned him widespread denunciation. The movement was then riding high. Continue reading “HISTORY AS ETHICAL REMEMBRANCE”