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”

Behind the Scenes: Time Person of the Year 2018

Person Of The Year

Moises Saman photographing Shahidul Alam on Dec. 5 on his Dhaka, Bangladesh, rooftop

Deutsche Welle interviews Shahidul Alam on "Searching for Kalpana Chakma" show (Bangla)

Military’s sole role has been repression

?The borders of the Global Village? (?Die Grenzen des globalen Dorfs?) lautet das Thema eines Vortrags des bengalischen Professors Shahidul Alam am Donnerstag, 3. Mai, auf der re:publica in Berlin.  internationale Blogger-Konferenz re:publica in Berlin. Aufnahmedatum: 3. Mai 2012 Fotograf: DW/ Matthias M?ller

Arab monarchies of Persian Gulf

Relics of barbarism, handwriting on the wall

By Webster G. Tarpley?Sat Aug 18, 2012 PressTV

Anti-regime protesters stage rally in Saudi Arabia?s coastal town of Qatif on July 8, 2012.
Anti-regime protesters stage rally in Saudi Arabia?s coastal town of Qatif on July 8, 2012.

The Arab monarchies that emerged under British auspices from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire have always represented an anachronism, in sharp contradiction to the whole direction of modern history and human progress elsewhere in the world. Continue reading “Arab monarchies of Persian Gulf”

Across the Wall: Israeli Settlement Bus Routes

By Ahmad Barclay and Polypod, July 2012

Across the Wall: Israeli Settlement Bus Routes which maps the public transport network connecting Israeli West Jerusalem to settlements in the West Bank across the Separation Wall.

Q & A: Censorship

FURTHER THOUGHTS ON CENSORSHIP

The previous postings in?Round One?and?Round Two?included answers from Australia, Europe and North America.
In this round, we hear from respondents in Australia, Bangladeshi, Canada and Israel.
This Q&A series follows on from Alasdair Foster?sinterview with Armani Nimerawi?on the subject of censorship, CDC asked artists and colleagues around the world three questions:

  1. Have you ever been censored?
  2. Can you give an example of justified censorship?
  3. If you ruled the world? how would the issues that lead to censorship be addressed?

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RUTHI OFEK

Ruthi Ofek is Director of the Open Museum of Tel Hai. Notably, this museum is situated in the heart of an industrial area and its mission is to break down barriers between the worlds of art and industry. Focusing on important national and international photographers, its programs are presented across five themed galleries. Additionally, once a year, it organises a group exhibition of graduate photography from Israeli art schools.

Have you ever been censored?

Yes, years ago, we had a student graduation exhibition. One of the students had thrown photographs of Israeli former Prime Ministers on the floor so that the visitors had to walk over them. It created a big scandal in the press and we were asked to change the position of the photographs, so they were re-displayed on the wall.

Can you give an example of justified censorship?

I can justify the censorship if it simply a personal attack, but not if it is an expression of free opinion.

If you ruled the world?

If I ruled the world, I would emphasis creativity focused on good ideas that would make the world a better place to live in. This is an optimistic wish, because I have three grandchildren!
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WILLIAM YANG

William Yang has been hailed as one of Australia?s great storytellers. His very personal interweaving of narratives describes the experience of being a gay third-generation Chinese Australian in a country that was not always hospitable to people of different appearance or alternative sexual orientation. While he exhibits regularly and widely, his ultimate art form is the illustrated monologue for which he has won plaudits around the globe.

Have you ever been censored?

Yes I have been censored. Censoring covers a spectrum of attitudes from banning to disapproval. I like to show gay images: that is men having sex with men, and male nudity. Both these areas have met with degrees of disapproval.
Contemporary art practices generally favour pushing boundaries and the new. I have some idea which of my photos would provoke a disapproving response although you never really know until you put it out there in the public domain. I decide how far I want to go, whether an idea or attitude is worth pushing. So it?s a kind of self-censorship which is part of cultural socialization. It happens all the time in ordinary socialization.

Can you give an example of justified censorship?

An example of justified censorship was not showing the dead body of Osama Bin Laden for fear it would inflame the Muslin world. It would have been a provocative act.

If you ruled the world?

Most attitudes are the result of cultural conditioning. If I ruled the world I would like everyone to be exposed to different cultural attitudes. If there was an issue about, say, attitudes towards women, people should be exposed to cultures with different attitudes to this topic, and hopefully an understanding of position would come from this exposure. It?s better to know where a person is coming from and to have an attitude of live and let live, than to say ?You can?t do that? with its implication of ?My position is better?.
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DIANA THORNEYCROFT

Diana Thorneycroft is an award-winning?artist living in Winnipeg. Over the past three decades she has created challenging work that blends a shadowy narrative with an aesthetic that seduces even as it disturbs.? While her earlier work situates a living figure in a mythic space, her later images use dolls and toys to mine a troubled sensibility that is deeply engrained in the Canadian identity.?Canadian Art?magazine rated her ?Group of Seven Awkward Moments? in the top ten exhibitions of 2008.

Have you ever been censored?

There are several kinds of censorship: the big ?C? when work is removed from gallery walls due to public pressure, which I have never experienced; and the small ?c?, when exhibitions are refused, even though the work is strong, because of the risk it presents.
My exhibition ?The Body, It?s Lesson and Camouflage? had a remarkable tour despite the content being problematic for many viewers. For that I credit the institutions that accepted the show and the individuals who stood behind the work. In situations where galleries had a ?talk back? forum in place (where members of the public were encouraged to leave their comments) it was clear many visitors felt my photographs should be taken down. And, if it were up to them, the work would be (as one person wrote) ?burned out back with the rest of the garbage?.

Can you give an example of justified censorship?

Hands down, art work that deals with blatant child pornography. I know in some people?s minds this is subjective ? case in point, Sally Mann?s photographs of her kids, however I doubt her images would appear in a porn magazine.

If you ruled the world?

If I ruled the world I would implant little chips into every person?s brain that would cause temporary blindness as they approached an image that they would find too difficult to handle.
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SHAHIDUL ALAM

Shahidul Alam?is a photographer and social activist based in Dhaka. He set up?DRIK?photo agency in 1989 and in 1998 he founded?Pathshala:South Asian Institute of Photography, which recently became the?South Asian Media Academy. He is also a director of?Chobi Mela, Asia?s longest-running festival of photography. Widely respected internationally, he was the?first person of colour to chair the international jury of World Press Photo. His monograph??My journey as a witness??was published in 2011.

Have you ever been censored?

Censorship occurs in many ways, and I have faced it numerous times in my career. It?s happened in Bangladesh, where galleries have refused to show my work, sponsors have backed out, and our gallery and office have been surrounded by riot police preventing visitors from coming in. Overseas publications have been very keen to get my content. Until they discovered my work was critical of their practice, which was followed by a stony silence. Nothing, of course, was printed.
In Bangladesh there was also more indirect, but more disruptive action. This was not censorship in a strict sense, but a message sent in response to our actions. All telephone lines to our office were disconnected after we published a critical piece on our human rights portal. It took two and a half years to get our lines working again. I was attacked in a street that was protected by the military and received eight knife wounds on the day after we had organised a press conference protesting against the government using the military to round-up opposition activists.

Can you give an example of justified censorship?

This is a difficult one and I am wary of giving answers that might be used out of context, but I myself have withheld information where the location of a person who had death threats made against her would have been revealed, putting her life at risk.

If you ruled the world?

I do not believe the world should have a single ruler but, if I were in a position of influence, I would work towards developing a responsible attitude towards information and ensure there was a culture of sharing. If I were the gatekeeper, my primary goal would be to ensure I had gained sufficient trust for people to respect my judgement. There will always be information that has to be withheld at a particular point. If people feel the decision makers have integrity, then acceptance of such actions becomes less of an issue. However, any act of censorship would need to be justified, and clearly demonstrated to be in the interest of public good. That does open it up to the question of who defines public good and on what basis, but there is no way round that one.
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Images:
A boy views the landscape through a camera obscura in front of the Open Museum of Photography Tel Hai [image ? the Museum]
?Tony and Michael? 1995 ? William Yang
untitled (snare)????Diana Thorneycroft
Cover of Shahidul Alam?s book ?My Journey as a Witness? [Skira Editore, 2011]

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The lead article for this short season on censorship is??On Liberty?and?Censorship?, an interview by Armani Nimerawi?with Alasdair Foster, sections of which were?published?in Capture magazine in May 2012.
You may also be interested Helen?Grace?s 2004?interview?with?Alasdair Foster for?ArtLink?magazine, in which they discussed??Staring in the Dark?,?an?exhibition?about artists who engage pornography.
Also?related?to this theme is the article?written?for The Bakery Art Centre in Perth:??Normality is not a Virtue?

The Menace Within

What happened in the basement of the psych building 40 years ago shocked the world. How do the guards, prisoners and researchers in the Stanford Prison Experiment feel about it now?

BY ROMESH RATNESAR

Stanford Prison Experiment

IT BEGAN with an ad in the classifieds.
Male college students needed for psychological study of prison life. $15 per day for 1-2 weeks. More than 70 people volunteered to take part in the study, to be conducted in a fake prison housed inside Jordan Hall, on Stanford’s Main Quad. The leader of the study was 38-year-old psychology professor Philip Zimbardo. He and his fellow researchers selected 24 applicants and randomly assigned each to be a prisoner or a guard.
Zimbardo encouraged the guards to think of themselves as actual guards in a real prison. He made clear that prisoners could not be physically harmed, but said the guards should try to create an atmosphere in which the prisoners felt “powerless.”
The study began on Sunday, August 17, 1971. But no one knew what, exactly, they were getting into. Continue reading “The Menace Within”

Police arrest 50 members of Oil and Gas Protection Committee

 

Professor Anu Muhammad in police van. Photo: Bangladesh First

July 3rd 2011. 7:50 am.

In an exclusive interview with ShahidulNews, secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil-Gas-Minerals-Power-Ports, Anu Muhammad, professor of economics of Jahangirnagar University, speaking outside the Communist Party of Bangladesh office in New Paltan in Dhaka, talked of over 50 activists having been arrested by the police in the early hours of the hartal.

Police barred the oil-gas activists coming out to the street in Paltan. July 3rd 2011. ??Wahid Adnan/DrikNews

The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) picked up Professor Anu Muhammad, the member secretary of National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports in front of CPB office today moring during the 6 hour hartal called by the committee. July 3rd 2011. ??Wahid Adnan/DrikNews

After detention for almost one hour in Ramna Police Station, police released and dropped him in the CPB office. July 3rd 2011. ??Wahid Adnan/DrikNews

Professor Muhammad was amongst those arrested but was later released. Other activists who remain arrested include active member of the committee Zonayed Saki and Saiful Huq a leading member of Biplobi Workers Party.
They were arrested this morning as they were heading towards their office. The professor spoke of the police having used force and numerous activists being beaten up.
Sunday’s hartal was called on the 18th January in protest against the controversial government treaty (PSC) with the American power giant ConocoPhillips. Activists maintain the contract, which has not yet been made public, only allows Bangladesh to have 20 per cent of the explored gas from Bay of Bengal, allowing the company to export the remaining 80 per cent.

Eyewitness report from Nasrin Siraj:

Anu Muhammad, professor of economics of Jahangirnagar University and member secretary of National Committee to??protect oil-gas-mineral resources, power and port is arrested from Paltan today (3 July) at 6:53 a.m.. While he was walking towards the office of Communist Party of Bangladesh to join the other activists of National Committee for strike campaign, at least 40 anti riot police came forward, grabbed him and took him away in a prisoner?s van. During the arrest he was silent. Anha F Khan, Mehedi Hassan and I were accompanying him today morning while he was walking from his residence. Mehedi Hasan was also arrested.
Today, from the very morning police started arresting activists of the National Committee. First, at 5:45 a.m leader of Student Union of Jahangirnagar University was arrested from Paltan. All the central offices of left political parties in Topkhana Road and Paltan were surrounded by police from the early morning. Almost all the central leaders of the National Committee are under police custody now.

Breaking News: Nasrin Siraj has since been arrested.


Video Clip from Shomoy TV

Earlier interviews with Anu Muhammad

Update at 9:30 pm July 3 2011.

Professor Anu Muhammad, speaking from Paltan Thana (Police Station) in Motijheel reported that except for a handful of activists, the rest of the people arrested were still in the police station. “The government is trying to lump our activists with the Islamic Movement to confuse the issue and divert attention from their controversial signing of the ‘sell-out’ contract.”

News update: 10: 10 pm July 3rd 2011.

All arrested activists at Paltan Thana have been released. Paltan had the highest concentration of high profile activists, including Mushrefa Mishu, Saiful Huq, Zonayed Saki and Ruhin Hussain Prince and a large number of women activists. Nasrin Siraj Annie had been earlier released at 7:30 pm.
Activists at Shahbagh Thana and Lalbagh Thana are yet to be released. A large number of respected citizens, as well as MPs of the ruling party campaigned for the release of the activists. Barister Sara Hossain and other lawyers were also present at Paltan Thana and demanded the release of the activists.
Except for one activist, all other activists from Shahbagh and Lalbagh Thana were also released by 10:30 pm. Jubilant crowds clapped as the leaders of the protest rally were released.

We all helped suppress the Egyptians. So how do we change?

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By Johann Hari
The Independent
Friday, 4 February 2011

Very few British people would beat up a poor person to get cheaper petrol. But our governments do it all the time. Why?
The old slogan from the 1960s has come true: the revolution has been televised. The world is watching the Bastille fall on 24/7 rolling news. An elderly thug is trying to buy and beat and tear-gas himself enough time to smuggle his family’s estimated $25bn in loot out of the country, and to install a successor friendly to his interests. The Egyptian people ? half of whom live on less than $2 a day ? seem determined to prevent the pillage and not to wait until September to drive out a dictator dripping in blood and bad hair dye.
The great Czech dissident Vaclav Havel outlined the “as if” principle. He said people trapped under a dictatorship need to act “as if they are free”. They need to act as if the dictator has no power over them. The Egyptians are trying ? and however many of them Mubarak murders on his way out the door, the direction in which fear flows has been successfully reversed. The tyrant has become terrified of “his” people.
Of course, there is a danger that what follows will be worse. My family lived for a time under the torturing tyranny of the Shah of Iran, and cheered the revolution in 1979. Yet he was replaced by the even more vicious Ayatollahs. But this is not the only model, nor the most likely. Events in Egypt look more like the Indonesian revolution, where in 1998 a popular uprising toppled a US-backed tyrant after 32 years of oppression ? and went on to build the largest and most plural democracy in the Muslim world.
But the discussion here in the West should focus on the factor we are responsible for and can influence ? the role our governments have played in suppressing the Egyptian people. Your taxes have been used to arm, fund and fuel this dictatorship. You have unwittingly helped to keep these people down. The tear-gas canisters fired at pro-democracy protesters have “Made in America” stamped on them, with British machine guns and grenade launchers held in the background.
Very few British people would praise a murderer and sell him weapons. Very few British people would beat up a poor person to get cheaper petrol. But our governments do it all the time. Why? British foreign policy does not follow the everyday moral principles of the British people, because it is not formulated by us. This might sound like an odd thing to say about a country that prides itself on being a democracy, but it is true.
The former Labour MP Lorna Fitzsimons spoke at a conference for Israel’s leaders last year and assured them they didn’t have to worry about the British people’s growing opposition to their policies because “public opinion does not influence foreign policy in Britain. Foreign policy is an elite issue”. This is repellent but right. It is formulated in the interests of big business and their demand for access to resources, and influential sectional interest groups.
You can see this most clearly if you go through the three reasons our governments give, sometimes publicly, sometimes privately, for their behavior in the Middle East. Explanation One: Oil. Some 60 per cent of the world’s remaining petrol is in the Middle East. We are all addicted to it, so our governments support strongmen and murderers who will keep the oil-taps gushing without interruption. Egypt doesn’t have oil, but it has crucial oil pipelines and supply routes, and it is part of a chain of regional dictators we don’t want broken in case they all fall taking the petrol pump with it. Addicts don’t stand up to their dealers: they fawn before them.
There is an obvious medium-term solution: break our addiction. The technology exists ? wind, wave and especially solar power ? to fuel our societies without oil. It would free us from our support for dictators and horrific wars of plunder like Iraq. It’s our society’s route to rehab ? but it is being blocked by the hugely influential oil companies, who would lose a fortune. Like everybody who needs to go to rehab, the first step is to come out of denial about why we are still hooked.
Explanation Two: Israel and the “peace process”. Over the past week, we have persistently been told that Mubarak was a key plank in supporting “peace in the Middle East”. The opposite is the truth. Mubarak has been at the forefront of waging war on the Palestinian population. There are 1.5 million people imprisoned on the Gaza Strip denied access to necessities like food and centrifuges for their blood transfusion service. They are being punished for voting “the wrong way” in a democratic election.
Israel blockades Gaza to one side, and Mubarak blockades it to the other. I’ve stood in Gaza and watched Egyptian soldiers refusing to let sick and dying people out for treatment they can’t get in Gaza’s collapsing hospitals. In return for this, Mubarak receives $1.5bn a year from the US. Far from contributing to peace, this is marinating the Gazan people in understandable hatred and dreams of vengeance. This is bad even for Israel herself ? but we are so servile to the demands of the country’s self-harming government, and to its loudest and angriest lobbyists here, that our governments obey.
Explanation Three: Strongmen suppress jihadism. Our governments claim that without dictators to suppress, torture and disappear Islamic fundamentalists, they will be unleashed and come after us. Indeed, they often outsourced torture to the Egyptian regime, sending suspects there to face things that would be illegal at home. Robert Baer, once a senior figure in black ops at the CIA, said: “If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear, you send them to Egypt.”
Western governments claim all this makes us safer. The opposite is the truth. In his acclaimed history of al-Qa’ida, The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright explains: “America’s tragedy on September 11th was born in the prisons of Egypt.” Modern jihadism was invented by Sayeed Qutb as he was electrocuted and lashed in Egyptian jails and grew under successive tyrannies. Mohammed Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker, was Egyptian, and named US backing for his country’s tyrant as one of the main reasons for the massacre.
When we fund the violent suppression of people, they hate us, and want to fight back. None of these factors that drove our governments to back Mubarak’s dictatorship in Egypt have changed. So we should strongly suspect they will now talk sweet words about democracy in public, and try to secure a more PR-friendly Mubarak in private.
It doesn’t have to be like this. We could make our governments as moral as we, the British people, are in our everyday lives. We could stop them trampling on the weak, and fattening thugs. But to achieve it, we have to democratise our own societies and claim control of our foreign policy. We would have to monitor and campaign over it, and let our governments know there is a price for behaving viciously abroad. The Egyptian people have shown this week they will risk everything to stop being abused. What will we risk to stop our governments being abusers?
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-we-all-helped-suppress-the-egyptians-so-how-do-we-change-2203579.html