‘PAPA, are you crying?’ were the last words popular Awami League councillor Akramul Haque’s daughter had said to him. The family then heard the gunshots. The groan. Then more shots. The sounds, recorded on their phone, and later released to the media, reverberated across paddy fields, along the undulating Chittagong Hill Tracts, across swampy marshlands, on the waves of the Padma and Jamuna, in fancy apartments of Gulshan and Baridhara, and now in the cantonment. It reaffirmed what we all knew, and what the government has consistently denied. That it was the law enforcing agencies of our country, rather than the courts, who decide whether a citizen should live or die.Continue reading “Who lives, who dies, who decides?”
Shahidul Alam presenting at Tate Modern
Violence and Representation – Part 6 18 September 2010 by Shahidul Alam
To coincide with the exhibition Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera, this symposium explores violence as a subject in relation to representations in the broadest range of historical and geographical?contexts.
It includes international artists, photojournalists and theorists who from their distinctive perspectives will attempt to unveil notions of spectatorship and consumption of violent images in contemporary culture. Key questions will encompass the notion of the political, apolitical or depoliticised spectator of representations of violence; the consequences of these kinds of practice and the difference between photo reportage and art photography. Speakers include Shahidul Alam, Steve Edwards, Susan Meiselas, Simon Norfolk, John Roberts, Julian Stallabrass and Alberto Toscano. Lawyer Rupert Grey was a discussant. Supported by Oxford Art Journal, Oxford University Press, the Open University and the British?Council.
Shahidul Alam: Crossfire
Public event???By?BRISBANE POWERHOUSE
|Photographer, journalist, and human rights activist Shahidul Alam examines the issue of the increasing number of extra-judicial killings
In 2004 the Bangladesh government created a new armed enforcement agency, The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), in response to a perceived law and order crisis. From early days RAB became notorious for the number of people that have been killed, allegedly during gun battles, because they?ve been caught in the ?crossfire?.
Shahidul Alam?s Crossfire project was first shown in Bangladesh in 2010 to draw attention to these killings. The government responded by shutting down the show. Eventually, facing a court ruling in favor of Alam, the government backed down and the show was reopened for a day.
Following a successful showing at the Queens Museum of Art New York in April, 2012, this exhibition marks the first time it will be shown in Australia.
Opening night: 6.30pm Wed 07 Nov
Presented by Drik, UQ?s Centre of Communication and Social Change, School of Journalism and Communication, Griffith University?s Queensland College of Art (QCA) and Brisbane Powerhouse
Tribunal Against Torture
Bengali Crossfire Reaches US
Crossfire – Photographs by Shahidul Alam
Photographer Sheds Light on Bangladesh
Crimes Unseen: Extrajudicial Executions in Bangladesh
The Secret Interrogation Policy That Could Never be Made Public
Drik DNA July 2012
Tribunal against Torture
The session, organised on June 26, 2012 at the BRAC Centre Inn, Dhaka by Odhikar in collaboration with European Union includes statements by victims and legal expert?s analysis. Speakers include
? Abdul Matin Khasru, MP and Former Law Minister
? Haider Akbar Khan Rono, Presidium Member, Communist Party of Bangladesh
? Abu Sayed Khan, Managing Editor, The daily Shomokal
? Advocate Abdus Salam, Member, Central Coordination Committee, Gonosonghati Andolon
? Rajekuzzaman Ratan, Member, Central Committee, Socialist Party of Bangladesh
? Mizanur Rahman Khan, Associate Editor, Prothom Alo
? Kalpona Akhter, Executive Editor, Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity
There is a paper presented by Adilur Rahman Khan, Secretary, Odhikar which Nurul Kabir, Editor, New Age presides over. Welcoming address given by Dr. C R Abrar, President, Odhikar
A set of posters of the exhibition on extra judicial killings “Crossfire” by Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam of Drik is on display. Sets of the posters have been given to human rights activists to use at grassroots level. The show was recently shown at the Queen’s Museum of Art in New York.
Crossfire ? Photographs by Shahidul Alam
Opening Reception & Forum:?Sunday, April 15, 6:00 pm ? 9:30 pm, 2012
Queens Museum of Art, NYC Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, NY 11368? DIRECTIONS
Forum & Opening Reception for Partnership Gallery Exhibition in Collaboration with Drik Picture Library, Dhaka.
Bangladeshi photographer and human rights activist Shahidul Alam?s Crossfire exhibition will open in the Partnership Gallery at the Queens Museum of Art on 15th April, 2012 and run until May 6th, 2012. The exhibition aims to gather international support for a campaign to end extra-judicial killings in Bangladesh by state forces, usually called ?crossfire.? Continue reading “Crossfire ? Photographs by Shahidul Alam”
Crimes unseen: Extrajudicial executions in Bangladesh
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Bangladeshi journalist Masum Fakir was arrested and tortured by the RAB?? Masum Fakir
24 August 2011
Crimes unseen: Extrajudicial executions in Bangladesh also documents how the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) justify these killings as accidental or as a result of officers acting in self-defence, although in reality many victims are killed following their arrest.
?Hardly a week goes by in Bangladesh without someone being shot by RAB with the authorities saying they were killed or injured in ?crossfire? or a ?gun-fight?. However the authorities choose to describe such incidents, the fact remains that they are suspected unlawful killings,? said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International?s Bangladesh Researcher.
The RAB has been implicated in the killing of at least 700 people since its inception in 2004. Any investigations that have been carried out into those killed have either been handled by RAB or by a government-appointed judicial body but the details of their methodology or findings have remained secret. They have never resulted in judicial prosecution. RAB has consistently denied responsibility for unlawful killings and the authorities have accepted RAB claims.
?It is appalling that virtually all alleged instances of illegal RAB killings have gone unchallenged or unpunished. There can be no justice if the force is the chief investigator of its own wrong-doings. Such investigations cannot be impartial. There is nothing to stop the RAB from destroying the evidence and engineering the outcome,? said Abbas Faiz.
Former detainees also told Amnesty International how they were routinely tortured in custody, suffering beatings, food and sleep deprivation, and electric shocks.
At least 200 alleged RAB killings have occurred since January 2009 when the current Awami League government came to power, despite the Prime Minister?s pledge to end extrajudicial executions and claims by the authorities that no extrajudicial executions were carried out in the country in this period.
In addition, at least 30 people have been killed in other police operations since early 2010, with the police also portraying them as deaths in ?shoot-outs? or ?gun-fights?.
?By failing to take proper judicial action against RAB, successive Bangladeshi governments have effectively endorsed the force?s claims and conduct and given it carte blanche to act with impunity. All we have seen from the current government are broken promises or worse, outright denial,? said Abbas Faiz.
In many cases the investigations blamed the victims, calling them criminals and portraying their deaths as justified even though available public evidence refuted that.
?The Bangladesh authorities must act now and take concrete steps to protect people from the alleged unlawful killings by their security forces .The government must ensure independent and impartial investigations into all suspected cases of extrajudicial executions and bring those responsible to justice.?
Bangladesh?s police and RAB continue to receive a wide range of military and police equipment from overseas, including from Austria, Belgium, China, Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Turkey and USA. In addition, diplomatic cables from the US Embassy in Dhaka, obtained and released by Wikileaks in December 2010 alleged that UK police had been training RAB officers.
Amnesty International calls upon these countries to refrain from supplying arms to Bangladesh that will be used by RAB and other security forces to commit extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations. Any country that knowingly sends arms or other supplies to equip a force which systematically violates human rights may itself bear some responsibility for those violations.
RAB was created in March 2004, to much public acclaim, as the government?s response to a breakdown in law and order, particularly in western and central Bangladesh.
In Rajshahi, Khulna and Dhaka districts, armed criminal groups or powerful mercenary gangs colluded with local politicians to run smuggling rings or extort money from local people. Within months of its creation, RAB?s operations were characterized by a pattern of killings portrayed by the authorities as ?deaths in crossfire?, many of which had the hallmarks of extrajudicial executions.
They usually occurred in deserted locations after a suspect?s arrest. In some cases, there were witnesses to the arrests, but RAB authorities maintained that victims had been killed by ?crossfire?, or in ?shoot-outs? or ?gunfights?.
Bangladesh?s two main political parties ? the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League ? have shown no commitment to limiting the powers of RAB.
In the first couple of months of coming to office, the Prime Minister spoke of a ?zero tolerance? policy toward extrajudicial executions. Other government authorities repeated her pledge. These hopes were dashed in late 2009 when the authorities, including the Home Minister, began to claim that there were no extrajudicial executions in the country.
An exhibition on extra judicial killings by Shahidul Alam
Guardian report on torture by MI5 in collaboration with RAB
Rahnuma Ahmed’s column on the shooting of Limon Hossain by RAB
Amensty’s Abbas Faiz on RAB impunity
Rahnuma Ahmed’s column on militarisation and the women’s movement
Rahnuma Ahmed’s column on the ‘death squad’
Guardian article on ‘death squad’ being trained by UK Government
Guardian claim of Briton being tortured in Bangladesh
Representing “Crossfire”: Politics, Art and Photography
Questions for police
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By William Gomes
February 16, Dhaka
Source: Sri Lanka Guardian
Kazi Imtiaz Hossain Abir, a student of higher secondary level at the Northern College at Mohammadpur was killed in a so called “Cross Fire” in the capital. Apart from ‘why’ he was killed the question is now where Abir was killed?
There are inconsistencies in the documents related to Abir’s extrajudicial killing. The police submitted a “Death Certificate” with its forwarding placed before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court of Dhaka through the Deputy Commissioner (Prosecution), a police officer, of the Metropolitan Court. The Death Certificate was issued by Dr. Nurul Islam of the National Institute of Trauma and Orthopedic Rehabilitation (NITOR) of Dhaka. It does not assert the cause of death although it mentions that “there is a penetrating injury on the medial aspect of the right lower thigh about (2cm X 2cm)”.
This differs from the police report by the Investigating Officer (IO) Sub Inspector (SI) Mr. Hekmat Ali in both the age and time of death. More significantly the report states that he was sent for treatment of his bullet wounds.
While the entire document was composed in a computer, the crime scene was penned, in all three cases.
So where was Abir killed?
The Pallabi police filed three cases against Abir naming him as the accused with four-five unidentified persons. FIR no. 27 sates that the a police patrol team went to Balurmath area, when they came across indiscriminate gunshots. They immediately returned fire in self-defence. All the “terrorists” fled the scene and hid in darkness. They found one critically-injured person, who was bleeding at the time from his bullet wounds. He was holding a revolver in his right hand. The person told the officers his name as “Abir (28)” before losing consciousness. The police took signatures from the three “witnesses” on the seizure list. They claim that ASI Ismail and constable Saidur were injured (without any details about their injuries) and received first aid from “Adhunik Hospital”, which referred them to the Rajarbag Police Hospital for further treatment.
FIRs no. 28 and FIR no. 29 were made in the same language by SI Md. Yasin Munshi and SI Md. Ezajul Islam, using identical text but under different sections of the Penal Code-1860. Professionals related to the forensic examination of dead bodies told the human rights defenders that the shot fired at Abir’s right thigh had been done at close range.
Abir’s relatives said that Abir’s cell phone has not been returned to the family and is not included in the seizure list. They did not even register a complaint regarding the extra judicial killing, asking instead ?have authorities ever prosecuted any personnel of the law-enforcement agencies despite the fact that a large number of innocent persons have been murdered?? They argued that there are a number of wanted criminals in the city whom the people want to see behind bars. They want legal action against the police who have failed to arrest them for years. They demand answers as to why an innocent student, who did have not a single complaint against him with any police station or court of the country, should be killed and publicized as a robber. Does the government ever feel how deeply shocked and infuriated people are about these lawless murders by the government’s own agents?
Even recently the prime minister has spoken out against extra judicial killings. The foreign minister has said extrajudicial killing have become almost part of the system and it cannot be changed overnight.
The Home Minister Sahara Khatun in public blamed human rights organizations for “siding with the criminals” and claimed that no extra-judicial killing has taken place during the tenure of the present government.
Also available at countercurrents
Representing ?Crossfire?: politics, art and photography
Shahidul Alam in an interview with New Age
by Rahnuma Ahmed
Media reports on “Crossfire” exhibition
Latest report in Indepndent
Shahidul Alam?s exhibition, ?Crossfire? (a euphemism for extrajudicial killings by the Rapid Action Battalion), was scheduled to open on March 22, at Drik Gallery, Dhaka. A police lockup of Drik?s premises before the opening prevented noted Indian writer and social activist Mahasweta Devi from entering, forcing her to declare the opening on the street outside Drik. The police blockage was removed soon after Drik?s lawyers served legal notice and the lawyers had moved the Court, and after Government lawyers i.e., the Attorney Generals office, had contacted the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner?s office, and the Home Ministry, during the hearing?on the government. The court commented that even after repeated rules had been issued on the government, crossfire had continued to occur. The court?s response and subsequent events enabled Drik to open the exhibition for public viewing on March 31.
|Shahidul Alam in front of a collage, part of his Crossfire exhibition. Cartoon in the background of Home Minister Sahara Khatun, ?No crossfire killing taken place?. ? Wahid Adnan/DrikNEWS|
You work in the documentary genre, this work is show-cased as being symbolic, interpretive. Does this mean a change in genres?
I find these categorisations problematic. I see myself as a storyteller. There?s fiction and non-fiction. This is clearly non-fiction, though it draws upon many of the techniques that fiction would use. The allegorical approach was deliberately chosen as I felt it had, in this instance, greater interpretive potential than the literal approach. Quite apart from the fact that one could hardly expect RAB to allow photographers to document their killing (they do sometimes have TV crews accompanying them on ?missions? but they are never allowed to be there during ?crossfire?), I felt that showing bodies, blood and weapons would not add to the understanding people already had. We are not dealing with lack of knowledge. ?Crossfire? is known and, in fact, it is because it is known that the exhibition is seen as such a threat. So, while reinforcing the known with images would have a value, it would be unlikely to be as provocative as these more subtle but haunting images are likely to be.
I wanted the images to linger in people?s minds, perhaps to haunt them. They are desolate images, quiet but suggestive. The attempt is not one of inundating the audience with information, but leaving them to meditate upon the silence of the dead.
Crossfire deaths continue despite regime changes. How do you view this?
Criminals have survived because of patronage of the powerful. The removal of criminals, through ?crossfire?, does not affect the system of control, but merely substitutes existing criminals for new ones. This is why crimes continue unabated under RAB. All it does is to undermine the legal system. Unless serious attempts are made to remove such patronage and, better still, catch the godfathers, the extermination of thugs and local-level criminals (and many innocent people are also killed) will have no effect on crime. The ruling elite knows this. So why use RAB at all? I believe it is to keep control. Dead criminals don?t speak. Don?t give secrets away. Don?t take a share of the spoils. They are disposable, and RAB is the disposal system.
Every government has used RAB and other law enforcement authorities to remove troublemakers. Bangla Bhai had become a liability when he was apprehended. He didn?t die in crossfire, but was hurriedly hanged all the same despite the fact that he wanted to talk to the media as he had ?stories to tell?. Dead people don?t tell stories. So, all governments would rather have RAB, to clean up their mess, than be confronted by their own shadows.
A change of government does not change this structure.
The inclusion of the Google map has turned this exhibition into a collective, history-writing project. Why that added dimension?
Art projects are generally about the glorification of the artist. The audience is generally a passive recipient. I see this as a public project. I have a role to play as a storyteller, but my work is informed by not only the collective work of my co-researchers, but also that of human rights groups, other activists, and most importantly by the lives, or deaths, of the people whose stories are being told. The survivors, the witnesses and others affected by these deaths are important players in this story and it was essential to find a way to make this project inclusive. I would be kidding myself if I assumed this show would put an end to extrajudicial killings. I also believe there are still many unreported cases.
The Google map has the twin benefits of being interactive and open. We have already been told of one person who had been crossfired but his name hadn?t come up in the archival research.
The internet will also allow a much wider participation than might otherwise have been possible.
Besides the Awami League?s electoral pledge of stopping extrajudicial killings, it had also promised us a ?digital Bangladesh?. I think it is appropriate that this digital Bangladesh be claimed by the people.
What is the significance of research?in the sense of dates, names, places, events?for this project, and for the exhibition?
The assumed veracity of the photographic image is an important source of the strength of this exhibition. We have deliberately moved away from the mechanical aspect of recording events through images, but supplemented it by relating the image to verifiable facts. Meticulous research has gone into not only providing the context for the photographs, which has been included in the Google map, but each image, in some way, refers to a visual inspired by a case study. By deliberately retaining some ambiguity about the ?facts? surrounding the image, we invite the viewer to delve deeper into the image to discover the physical basis of the analogy, and to reflect upon the image. The photographs therefore become a portal through which the viewer can enter the story, rather than the story in itself. Yet, each image, relates to a finite, physical instance, that becomes a reference point for a life that was brutally taken away.
Your exhibition is political, with a capital ?P?. Why is political engagement generally not seen in the work of Bangladeshi artists?
Art cannot be dissociated from life, and life is distinctly political. To paraphrase the renowned Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali, the price of tomato is political. However, life is also nuanced and multi-layered. Our art practice needs to be critically engaged at all levels. While the war of liberation is understandably a source of inspiration for many artists, there are many other wars of contemporary life that seem to slip from the artist?s canvas. Most artists, with some exceptions of course, claim they produce art merely for themselves. I don?t believe them. Of course there is great joy in producing art that pleases oneself. But I believe art is the medium and not the message, and all artists, I suspect, want their art to have an effect.
I know it is pass? in some quarters to be producing art that is political. Being apolitical is a political stance too. While I can understand schools of thought that have rebelled against the traditional trappings of art, I do not see the point of producing art that is not meaningful. Strong art is capable of engaging with people. It is that engagement that I seek. My art is merely a tool towards that engagement.
I understand what you mean. A lot of the artwork that?s being produced in Bangladesh stems from commercial interests. Producing formulaic work that sells is the job of a technician and not an artist. Sure, an artist needs to survive and we all produce work which we hope might sell, but once that becomes the sole purpose of producing art, one is probably not an artist in the first place.
There is a strong adherence in Bangladesh to an antiquated form of pictorialism. This applies both to representational and abstract art. Ideas seem to take back stage. While I?m wary of pseudo intellectualisation of art, I must admit that the cerebral aspects of art excite me. The politicisation is an extension of that process.
Books on crossfire have been published, roundtable discussions have been held. Why did the government react as it did, do you think it says something about the power of photography?
The association of photographs with real events makes the photographer a primary witness, and thereby the photograph becomes documentary evidence. This makes photography both powerful and dangerous. Way back in 1909, much before Photoshop came into play, Lewis Hine had said ?While photographs may not lie, liars may photograph.?
Today, liars who run corporations and rule powerful nations, also have photography at their disposal. This very powerful tool is used and abused, and it is essential that we come to grips with this new language. Advertising agencies with huge budgets use photography to shape our minds about products we buy. Politicians and their campaigns are also products that we, as consumers, are encouraged to buy into. I see no restrictions on the lies we are fed every day through advertising or political propaganda. It is when the public has access to the same tools, and in particular when they use it to expose injustice that photography becomes a problem. These seemingly ?innocent? photographs become charged with meaning as soon as we learn to read their underlying meaning. This makes them dangerous.
Perhaps this is also why photographic education has been systematically excluded from our education system. A tool for public emancipation will never be welcomed by an oppressive regime. And we will have oppressive regimes for a while to come.
?Crossfire? was curated by an international curator, and you yourself have curated exhibitions abroad. Do you think international curators are more likely to engage with work such as ?Crossfire? on the basis of aesthetic considerations rather than lived, political ones, since s/he will ?be less knowledgeable about its history, meanings, metaphors, how the government has manufactured popular consent, resistance, etc. For instance, and you mention it in the brochure: John Pilger, the well-known journalist, had written when Barrister Moudood Ahmed had been arrested during the Fakhruddin-Moeenudin regime, he?s ?a decent, brave man.? And of course, it?s quite possible that Pilger didn?t know that the Barrister saheb, as law minister, was one of the political architects of RAB.
Ah yes, Pilger bungled that one. I think artistic collaborations create new possibilities. Our art practice is so often informed by western sensibilities that we at Drik deliberately explore southern interactions. The discussions between Kunda Dixit of Nepal and Marcelo Brodsky of Argentina in Chobi Mela V (our festival of photography) pointed to the remarkable similarity between the political movements in Peru and in South Asia. This made the inclusion of a Peruvian curator even more interesting, and Jorge Villacorte is a respected Latin American curator and art critic. Several other recognised international curators, from Lebanon, Tangiers and Italy had seen the show. I was somewhat surprised that while they introduced interesting ideas about curatorial and art practice and were hugely appreciative of the aesthetic and performative elements of the work, not one of them ever asked me about the impact it might have upon crossfire itself. Though it would be arrogant to suggest that this show would put an end to that.
As someone deeply in love with my country (I find words like patriotic and nationalistic problematic), my primary concern is the welfare of my community. If my work can contribute to improving the lives of my people, I will have been successful, regardless of how my art is perceived by critics. If the work is perceived as great art, but fails in its ultimate goal of furthering the cause of social justice, then I will have failed.
That said, the exhibition was only a small part of the larger movement for democracy. The activism surrounding the show, the legal action, the media mobilisation, and the spontaneous popular actions were all part of the process. The international curator had an important role to play, but only as a point of departure. We have since had students critiquing the curatorial process, where they have brought in elements relating to their political practice and social concerns. The debate resulting from the work is more important than the work itself. But it is the power of art, and particularly photography that makes such actions so vital.
There is an interesting sub-text to this exercise. The dinosaurs of Bangladeshi art have been incapable of recognising photography as an art form. Photographers are still not invited to participate in the Asian Biennale (though foreign photographers have even won the grand prize in the event). There is still no department of photography in either Shilapakala Academy (the academy of fine and performing arts) or Charukala Institute (the institute of fine arts). These are 19th-century institutions operating in the 21st century. It is interesting however, that while Charukala Institute refused to show my work in 1989, because it was a photographic, and not a painting, exhibition, it was the students of Charukala Institute who organised the first public protests when the police came and blockaged our gallery to prevent the opening of the Crossfire exhibition. It is reassuring that the students at least can raise their heads and look above the sand.
Drik under Crossfire (Independent)
Posted in New Age on 8th April 2010
Media reports on “Crossfire” exhibition