Despite securing bail Thursday at the country’s High Court, renowned photojournalist Shahidul Alam spent the weekend still incarcerated, and starts the week far from certain that his stay at the Keraniganj Central Jail is set to end.
While the weekend was a given - the court order sets in motion a paper trail that takes a while to reach jail authorities, with stops along the way - the more worrying development for supporters and friends of Dr Alam, was the attorney general’s reaction to Thursday's ruling, declaring his intention to move the Appellate Division for a stay on the bail order.
It remains to be seen whether his office actually follows through on the uncompromising rhetoric - there is a school of thought that the government would like to portray a somewhat ‘softer’ disposition in the run up to a national election slated for December 30.
Yet even amongst the multitude of voices from all corners of the globe that have been raised in support of the visionary behind Drik, Pathshala, Chobi Mela and countless photojournalism careers at world-beating institutions, the bail judgement was greeted, at most, with guarded optimism.
And no-one knows better than to not take anything for granted in the current political climate, than Barrister Sara Hossain, who has been representing Shahidul Alam in court proceedings throughout his detention.
Getting back to us on Whatsapp Saturday night, she bemoaned the “lengthy outdated procedures” that meant her client had already endured an extra two days behind bars after winning bail.
Yet she remained hopeful that Dr Alam would indeed walk free today, skilfully putting the onus on the AG to not further sully the image of the government.
“We are hoping the attorney general will not hurt the image of this government further by seeking a stay on the bail order by going to the Appellate Division,” she wrote.
As of this morning, almost an hour into courts in session, we are yet to hear from the AG’s office. The Appellate Division’s cause list - live updated and available to the public through a deceptively proficient app - indicates they haven’t either. Barrister Hossain is giving them till noon at the moment.
Freedom for Shahidul Alam will not be taken for granted.
‘Drop charges’: Amnesty
Among others keeping an eye on how the day proceeds is Amnesty International, through its regional office based out of Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital.
In an emailed statement to DC, Saad Hammadi, AI Regional Campaigner for South Asia said:
“The High Court bail order for Shahidul Alam has been a long wait. There is no justification for keeping him in indefinite incarceration even after the Bangladeshi authorities have failed to prove the allegations against him in court.”
Beyond the bail order, Amnesty reiterated its call to drop all charges against Dr Alam, who is termed ‘a prisoner of conscience’. When used by AI, the term ‘prisoner of conscience’ denotes the imprisonment to be not only unjustified, but also a significant human rights violation:
“Bangladesh authorities should immediately drop charges against Shahidul Alam and uphold the people’s right to exercise freedom of expression. No one should be detained and arrested for peacefully expressing their views, which is a fundamental human right for every individual.”