It was late on Sunday when at least 20 to 30 men, all in plain clothes, entered the offices of the Drik Picture Library in Dhaka to forcefully remove its founder, photographer Shahidul Alam.
The arrest came hours after Alam posted to Facebook a video about ongoing student protests in Bangladesh. The photographer also spoke to Al Jazeera, claiming police had sought “help from armed goons to combat unarmed students demanding safe roads.”
In the past week, thousands of students have taken to the streets after a speeding bus fatally struck two youths in Dhaka. The students have been calling for improved road safety in a country where about 12,000 people are killed in road accidents each year. Bus services have since been suspended, and the government has closed all high schools in a bid to put an end to the marches. On Saturday, police fired rubber bullets at the protesters, injuring dozens.
In his Al Jazeera interview, Alam said the government had miscalculated. “It thought that fear and repression would be enough, but you cannot tame an entire nation in this manner,” he said.
A police official, Moshiur Rahman, told Agence France-Presse that Alam had been brought in on Monday morning. “We are interrogating him for giving false information to different media and for provocative comments. And he could not give proper answers. He admitted that these are his personal opinions,” Rahman said, according to AFP.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has asked for Alam to be released without charge immediately. “Authorities should also ensure that Alam and all journalists covering unrest in Dhaka are able to work without fear of attack or arrest,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler.
Alam, an influential voice in photography, is the founder of the Drik Library and the Pathshala South Asian Media Academy, one of the rare schools of photography in South Asia. He’s also one of the co-founders of Majority World, an agency that represents more than 300 photographers from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.