To mark the Day of the Imprisoned Writer on 15 November, PEN highlighted the case of the award-winning Bangladeshi photographer, writer and activist Shahidul Alam, who was arrested in Dhaka on 5 August 2018. Shortly before his detention, Alam had given an interview to the news agency Al Jazeera in which he criticised the government’s handling of student-led demonstrations calling for better road safety laws after two teenagers were killed by a speeding bus. The government responded to the protests by firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds of demonstrators, injuring hundreds.
On 6 August, Alam, who is sixty-three, was brought before a lower court in Dhaka, accused of ‘making provocative comments’ and ‘giving false information’ to the media under Section 57 of Bangladesh’s draconian Information Communications Technology Act. This section of the law has been widely criticised for restricting freedom of expression and because it is frequently used to arrest dissidents. It has recently been replaced by the Digital Security Act, which continues to criminalise free speech and, according to Human Rights Watch, ‘is a license for wide-ranging suppression of critical voices’.
On 20 November, Alam was finally released on bail, his applications having previously been