CPJ is honored to present its 2020 International Press Freedom Award to Bangladeshi journalist Shahidul Alam.
Alam is a renowned photojournalist and commenter, and the founder of the Bangladeshi multimedia training organization the Pathshala Media Institute and the Drik photo library. He also co-founded the photo agency Majority World and the Chobi Mela Festival, a pioneering photography festival in Bangladesh. His photographs of life in Bangladesh, as well as of protests and the environment, are well known in his country and around the world.
In August 2018, Alam was detained by a group of about 40 men who said they were from the detective branch of Dhaka police. Security guards at the journalist’s building said the group pushed the photographer screaming into a car. Later, the journalist said, “When I got picked up, I didn’t know if I would live or die.”
Hours before Alam was detained, he was interviewed by Al-Jazeera and posted a video on Facebook about protests by Bangladeshi students calling for safer roads after two children were killed by a bus in late July 2018. CPJ documented attacks on several journalists covering the protests, in which police used tear gas and rubber bullets.
The day after Alam was arrested, a court in Dhaka ordered that he be held for seven days pending investigation into allegations that he violated the country’s Information and Communication Technology Act by spreading propaganda against the government and spreading false information on electronic media, according to news reports. When Alam appeared in court, he was unable to walk without assistance and said he had been tortured. “I was hit [in custody],” he told journalists later. “[They] washed my bloodstained punjabi and then made me wear it again.”
CPJ publicly called for Alam’s release on the day he was taken into custody and four days later, signed a joint letter calling for the photojournalist to be freed. CPJ participated in a protest in front of the United Nations in New York, raised his case at a U.N. event on imprisoned journalists with human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, and highlighted his detention in a #FreeShahidulAlam campaign. After CPJ raised Alam’s case before the European Parliament, the body passed an urgency resolution on the human rights situation in Bangladesh and called on authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the journalist.
In November 2018, 102 days after he was detained, Alam was freed on bail.
“Journalists speak truth to power,” Alam said in a #FreeThePress video CPJ published in April, calling on governments to release all jailed journalists in light of COVID-19. “That is why, generally, they end up in jail.”