By Kamran Reza Chowdhury on Aug 06, 2018
A prominent Bangladeshi photographer who gave live Facebook updates on a bloody government crackdown on student protesters has been arrested and says he was beaten while in police custody.
The crackdown began Saturday after six days of non-stop protests by high school students demanding road safety reforms after two classmates were struck and killed by a speeding bus.
“I was beaten. [They] washed my blood-stained Punjabi [shirt] and made me wear it again,” Shahidul Alam, 63, called out to reporters while being shifted from one van to another en route to court, where he was remanded to seven days in custody for questioning.
“I plead with the citizens of this country, please protest. People who love this country, please protest.”
About 30 to 35 men from the Dhaka Metropolitan Police forced Alam from his home around 10 p.m. Sunday, according to Alam’s wife, Rahnuma Ahmed, who said she was not in their flat at the time but came running upon hearing him scream.
Police official Moshiur Rahman confirmed that Alam was in police custody.
“He has been brought to our office early this morning. We are interrogating him for giving false information to different media and for provocative comments,” Rahman told reporters.
“He could not give proper answers. He admitted that these were his personal opinions.”
A case has been filed against him under the Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, according to a statement by Drik, Alam’s multimedia production company.
On Saturday, the government slowed mobile Internet service in the country and began using force to end the week-long student protests that brought many parts of Dhaka to a standstill.
In a Facebook Live update that afternoon, Alam stated that 67 injured students had been admitted to the Japanese Friendship hospital in Dhaka.
Clashes continued near universities on Monday as the students demanded the government mandate capital punishment for cases where pedestrians are killed by reckless drivers.
Responding to the protests, cabinet officials approved a draft of the Road Transport Bill 2018 increasing the maximum penalty for road accidents from three years to five.
“But the maximum punishment will be a death sentence if the investigation reveals that the errant diver intentionally caused the accident to kill someone,” Law Minister Anisul Huq told reporters.
On Sunday, in an interview with Al Jazeera, Alam said the protests were about something “very much larger” than road safety issues.
He blamed Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government for “the looting banks, the gagging the media,” extrajudicial killings and disappearances, as well as bribery and corruption.
“It really is that pent up energy, emotion, anger that has been let loose,” he said, and then spoke of police deploying “armed goons” against unarmed students.
“Today I was in the streets there are people with machetes in their hands chasing unarmed students and the police are standing by watching it happen. In some cases they are actually helping out.”
Up to 26 journalists covering the events on Saturday and Sunday suffered injuries, according to a BenarNews tally. Among them was AP news photographer AM Ahad. Social media videos of Ahad’s attack showed about a dozen men striking him with long sticks and batons.