Tuesday, August 7, 2018
A few hours before the celebrated photographer Shahidul Alam was forcibly picked up from his Dhaka home by 25 plain clothes dressed Detective Branch officers, he gave a live skype interview to Al Jazeera about the ongoing student protests over road safety. A case has been filed against him under section 57 of the Information and Communications Technology Act in relation to his Facebook posts – in which he provided news through Facebook Live on the ongoing student protests – though it is more than likely that it is this interview which forms the real basis for his arrest. He has now been remanded in custody for seven days.
In the interview Shahidul provides a highly incisive and articulate critique of the current Bangladesh political situation which few others would either be able or brave enough to provide. Many will not agree with every point, but it is worth reading as this is certainly what very many in Bangladesh are privately thinking, though unable in the current situation (where freedom of speech is significantly curtailed) to articulate. It is important to note that Shahidul is not politically partisan – and would criticise the opposition in similar language when equally appropriate.
Q: These protests were sparked by two teens who were killed in a road accident but is this all about road safety or is there something larger going on?
A: Very much larger. This has been going on for a very very long time. It is an unelected government so they do not really have a mandate to rule, But they have been clinging on by brute force. The looting of banks, the gagging of the media. You mentioned just now the mobile internet is currently switched off, the extra-judicial killings, the disappearances, the need to give protection money at all levels, bribery at all levels, corruption in education. It is a never ending list. It has been huge.
So it really it is that pent up energy, emotion, anger, that has been let lose. This particular incident, sad as it is, really is the valve that has allowed things to go through. Very recently there was another very big protest about the quota because the quota system is rigged in such a way that only people close to the party in power get to get government jobs and there is a disproportionate amount of jobs going to them so ordinary people protested. And that was very brutally brought down.
Under pressure the prime minister offered reforms but them reneged on them. So that is also part of the reason. So this time when students did go on protests, again it went to a situation where they could not control it and the Prime minister has promised that she will cede to their demands, but of course people no longer believe. She has no credibility. She has made promises before, it has not been accepted, so now they don’t do it.
But I think what we need is to look at is what is happening in the streets today. The police specifically asked for help from these armed goons to combat unarmed students demanding safe roads. I mean now ridiculous is that. Today I was in the street and 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 it out. I mean …. this morning, there was tear-gassing and I saw the police ganging up trying to catch these un-armed students, whereas these armed goons, are going out, wielding sticks and machetes, are walking past and they [the police] are just standing by.
Q: So where do you think these things are going to go from here? These protests appear to have spread across the country quite spontaneously and without any kind of central leadership here. This is part of the challenge the government is dealing with, in that it is so grass-roots in the way that it has spread.
A: I think the Government has miscalculated. It certainly felt that fear was enough, repression would have been enough, but I think you cannot tame an entire nation in this manner. And of course they are approaching elections, so the nearer it gets to elections, the more sensitive they are. They know that if there is a fair and free election, they will lose. But they haven’t got an exit plan as they have misruled for so long so that if they do lose, they will be torn apart. So they have to hang on by any means, so that is exactly what they are doing. They are clinging on using the entire might of the system plus the armed goons at their disposal.
Posted by David Bergman