Sunderland University and Northern School of Art join fight to free professor from prison in Bangladesh

Free Shahidul Alam. Picture: Drik.
Free Shahidul Alam. Picture: Drik.

Universities across the United Kingdom are throwing their support behind a photography professor jailed for "damaging the image" of his home country Bangladesh.

Shahidul Alam was arrested earlier this year after giving an interview to Al Jazeera, in which he spoke about his country's government following then-protests in capital city Dhaka.

The internationally-renowned photographer, photojournalist, and activist has been a friend and visiting Professor of Photography at Sunderland University for a number of years - and this month, the university will support a campaign aimed at raising awareness of his imprisonment.

Nineteen other UK universities, exhibitions spaces and colleges, including the Northern School of Art in Hartlepool, will display Shahidul's photographic work in an effort to spread his message. The campaign is backed with the hashtag #freeshahidulalam.

Shahidul’s photography focuses on exposing abuses of power, including images of the genocide of the 1971 Bangladeshi war of liberation.

He founded the picture agencies Drik and Majority World, and the photography school Pathshala South Asian Media Institute.

Stephen Newman, the Secretary of Amnesty Wearside Group will be one of the invited speakers at the opening of an exhibition of Shahidul’s work on Wednesday, October 17at Sunderland University.

The event is taking places at 1pm, at the Priestman building.

Mr Newman added: “Amnesty members in Sunderland are appalled at the treatment Shahidul has received at the hands of the authorities in Bangladesh.

“underland people know him as a respected academic who was merely exercising his right to freedom of expression. The draconian Information and Technology Act under which he is being held has no place in a civilised, open society.”

An international call for justice and transparency about the professor's alleged crimes is ongoing - and has been backed by MPs, famous faces and education figures across the globe.

Hollywood star Sharon Stone, actor and artist Steve McQueen and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are among some of the high-profile names demanding the photographer's release.

Sixty-three-year-old Shahidul was taken from his home in Dhaka by more than 30 members of the city's metropolitan police and arrested with damaging "the image of the nation".

He continues to be held under section 57 of the Information and Communication Act.

This act has been used in more than 20 cases involving journalists, and carries a punishment of up to 14 years in prison.

Police officers denied that Shahidul was tortured in custody - and the 63-year-old continues to be held in Dhaka Central Jail pending the outcome of an investigation.

Arabella Plouviez, Professor of Photography and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries at Sunderland University, said: “Shahidul has been a respected colleague and friend since we met in Bangladesh in 1989.

"I have tremendous respect for his use of photography as a peaceful – yet powerful tool for emancipation and to highlight social injustice.

“Shahidul is calm, driven and unfailingly just – we are concerned for his safety and join his family and many friends in demanding his release from injustice.

“There has already been huge international support for the #freeshahidulalam campaign, which we know Shahidul is aware of and appreciates. We need to keep up the momentum and amplify the voices appealing to the Bangladeshi authorities.”

The images being displayed across the UK are from his exhibition recently staged in Dhaka. It's called Bangladesh: A Struggle for Democracy - A Photo Journey by Shahidul Alam.

Sofia Karim, Shahidul’s niece who lives in the UK, added: “After his torture, Shahidul was briefly paraded in public. Unable to walk, he waved to the photographers and said, ‘The camera should be in my hand’. Denied his lens, we must tell the story on his behalf to the best of our ability.”