My sleeping bird

It was on the 5th August 2018 that I was picked up from my flat. It led to torture, remand, over 100 days in jail and eventually bail on the 6th attempt.

What do I remember of my incarceration? One of my endearing memories is during a power cut (which happens regularly in this high security (KPI) location), when I would hear one of the prisoners sing a song both Rahnuma and I are very fond of. A Baul song composed by Ukil Munshi on the death of his beloved. The song “Shona Chand Pakhi” was made famous by the bard Bari Siddique. Songs are always difficult to translate, but here is a crude attempt:

My tender moon my tender bird
Do you slumber as I call,
You and I, entwined we were
Forevermore and all

Why must you, so quiet stay
Open your eyes, my gentle one
So quiet you are as I call today
Its my call, don’t slumber on

Bulbul, Parakeet, Mynah
So many names to you I call
You broke the chains and left me 
Where do I stay where do I fall?

This love of ours, as I call and you sleep
Sun and moon witness in the sky
Suddenly you leave me all alone
I am left with the question why?

A long way to run

It was 18th May 1976. My sister Najma (Apamoni to me) had just given birth to her second child. It was coming up to my final exams at Liverpool University. The hospital in Fazakerley was about ten miles away. I’d used all my holidays and every weekend, working as a labourer at the building sites of Lockwoods Constructions in Preston, St. Helens and Bootle, to save money for my overseas student fees, and for my keep. There had been little extra time to study during term and there was a lot of catching up to do. The bus ride would have taken too long and been much too expensive. I used to live in cheap digs at the Catholic Chaplaincy of the Liverpool University and pedaled out from Brownlow Hill with my Radio Shack bike radio churning out ‘Living Next Door to Alice’ by Smokie on full blast. Apamoni’s firstborn, Mowli, had been born on the 24th March 1971, the eve of the genocide in Bangladesh. The exams and money woes that accompanied Sofi’s birth were insignificant in comparison.

My nieces were my first models. This was probably taken around 1981, when Sofi would have been five.

Continue reading “A long way to run”

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”

THE PLACE OF SHAHIDUL ALAM

First published in PIX

by Rahaab Allana

From A Struggle for Democracy, 1987–1990

No heaven, no hell, no everafter, do I care for when I’m gone
Peace here I seek, in this sand and soil, this place where I was born
As oceans deep, as deserts wide, as forests and fences loom
As children die, as lovers sigh, no cross, no epitaph, no tomb…

Place by Shahidul Alam, 2017* Continue reading “THE PLACE OF SHAHIDUL ALAM”

Raghu Rai’s Open Letter to Sheikh Hasina

An Open Letter to Our Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

Ms. Sheikh Hasina, Honorable Prime Minister
Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Prime Minister’s Office. Old Sangsad Bhaban
Tejgaon, Dhaka-1215, Bangladesh

My name is Raghu Rai. I have been honored by you in 2012 as friends of Bangladesh Liberation War who photographed the Bangladesh war for freedom by Mukti Bahini supported by your neighbors and friends to transform east Pakistan into an independent nation today known as Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a country of poets, writers, musicians and some of them migrated to India during the partition. Our bond is deep not only culturally but spiritually as well.

Madam Prime minister, you are the daughter of great revolutionary Sheikh Mujibur Rehman who rose against the repressive and torturous regime of Pakistani generals—and in return the generals decided to teach Bangladeshis a lesson. Thus the nation rose against Pakistan under the leadership of Sheikh Sahib and this is how Bangladesh came into being. So let’s not teach our boys a lesson.

Hon’ble Madam, Shahidul Alam founder of DRIK and Pathshala has been a great admirer of Sheikh Sahib, and I have had the privilege of knowing him as a close friend for the last 3 decades. I have no doubt in my mind that Shahidul is one of those rare breeds committed to truth and honesty, and can die for his country. It seems last night Shahidul was picked up by 20-30 men from detective branch of police, and was tortured and couldn’t walk on his feet. My heart bleeds for that. Continue reading “Raghu Rai’s Open Letter to Sheikh Hasina”

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”

Time Magazine: Person of the Year 2018

Shahidul Alam, a photographer and activist who has documented human-rights abuses and political upheaval in Bangladesh for over 30 years. He was arrested in August for making “false” and “provocative” statements after criticizing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in an interview. Photographed at the future site of the Drikpath Building that will eventually house the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute and the Drik Picture Library set to open in 2019.
Shahidul Alam, a photographer and activist who has documented human-rights abuses and political upheaval in Bangladesh for over 30 years. He was arrested in August for making “false” and “provocative” statements after criticizing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in an interview. Photographed at the future site of the Drikpath Building that will eventually house the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute and the Drik Picture Library set to open in 2019. Moises Saman—Magnum Photos for TIME

By ELI MEIXLER / DHAKA

December 11, 2018

Palestinian children 'abused' in Israeli jail

Recent studies allege a system of abuse targeting children detained by Israel’s military court system.
Dalia Hatuqa?Al Jazeera report

Israeli military courts imprison about 500-700 Palestinian children per year, according to a new study (AFP)

Ramallah, occupied Palestinian territories –?A dirty mattress fills up a space barely two metres long and?one metre wide. A suffocating stench emanating from the toilet hovers over the windowless room, and a light turned on 24/7 means sleep is a distant dream. This is the infamous Cell 36 in Al Jalameh Prison in Israel. It’s one of the cells that many Palestinian children have either heard of or, worse, been inside when placed in solitary confinement.
Continue reading “Palestinian children 'abused' in Israeli jail”

Wearing her ghoonghat a few inches higher

Image and text contributed by Sreenivasan Jain, Mumbai

Some text is paraphrased from a recent Book ? Civil Disobedience, Sreenivasan?s father Late. Shri LC Jain, noted economist and Gandhian.

Chameli Devi Jain and her husband Phool Chand shortly after they were married. Photographer unknown

This image was photographed in Delhi, shortly after my Paternal grandparents Chameli and Phool Chand, got married. She was 14 and he was 16. It was unusual for couples in our family to be photographed, especially holding hands, which turned out to be an indication of the unconventional direction their lives would take. They were both Gandhians and Freedom fighters. Continue reading “Wearing her ghoonghat a few inches higher”

Eleven days in Saudi Gitmo

Syed Neaz Ahmed

I worked as a senior lecturer at?Umm al-Qura University in Mecca until last January. I taught English language, linguistics and creative writing. Over 28 years I signed three contracts with the university and had no problem whatsoever, either with students or the administration.
I taught graduates and undergraduates and, as a tribute to my good standing, I was often asked to teach for the women’s campus ? which involves use of CCTV whereby the pupils can see the teachers but the teacher cannot see them.
In collaboration with a Saudi colleague I co-authored a series of three books on writing for students of engineering and Islamic architecture. In addition I wrote weekly columns for the two Jeddah-based English newspapers, the Saudi Gazette and Arab News. I appeared on Saudi TV chat shows and was often interviewed on Jeddah FM radio. For more than fours year I also worked as an online editor of Saudi Gazette.
When my tenure with the university ended, I was offered the post of editorial consultant at the?Muslim World League ? a non-government organisation based in Mecca. Since I am a British citizen my job transfer had to be approved by the interior ministry in Riyadh and I signed a one-year (usually renewable) contract. All my papers were in order.
In May, I was called unexpectedly to the Mecca passport office and detained for several hours without any apparent reason. On that day they confiscated my passport and my residence permit. When I protested that I would not be able to drive my car or go out on the street without a valid residence permit they gave me a temporary one valid only for Mecca. I was not allowed to leave the city: my confinement had already begun.
On the morning of 7 June, while working at the Muslim World League office, I was asked to return to the passport office. I was detained in the main office for several hours with no explanation and then transferred to another outfit run by the interior ministry.
I had no idea why I was being detained or where I was being sent. They took away my briefcase and my mobile phone and pushed me into a room that was already full with around 500 inmates. The air conditioning and the fans did not work. There was no drinking water. The toilets were dirty and three of the five toilets were without water and electricity. One can only imagine the stink. In June temperatures in Mecca run up to 50C.
Inmates in this Saudi Gitmo were moved from one room to another every two hours or so. As there was not enough room to sit or stretch your legs it added to the stress and strain. We were made to sleep on bare floors and fights for sitting/sleeping space were not uncommon. There was a stabbing over a small sum of money ? I don’t know if the victim survived.
The guards in Mecca were very “kind” to me. They never missed an opportunity to call me “animal”, kick my ankles with their boots or step on my toes.
After four days handcuffed in Mecca, I was transferred to a detention centre in Jeddah where conditions were even worse. In warehouse-like halls with no air conditioning, no fans and temperatures rising to 50C, about 1,500 people were locked up.
We were provided with food but we ate only enough to survive as it was rumoured that the food was drugged to make us sleep. From the sleeping patterns of the inmates, this was probably true.
After 11 days of hell I was deported to Bahrain from where I made my way back to England. I had to leave everything ? my car, my flat and my belongings.
I still do not know why I was singled out for this treatment which has left me jobless, broke and with a traumatic experience that is hard to overcome. As a Muslim I know that this is not Islam.