Shahidul Alam

November 14, 2018

Her Excellency Michelle Bachelet

High Commissioner for Human Rights

Palais Wilson

52 rue des Pâquis

CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland.

Your Excellency


Congratulations on your new role as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. As you take up your new mandate, I urge you to make Bangladesh a focus of your efforts in the coming months and to undertake an official visit to Bangladesh as soon as possible.


The Government of Bangladesh has engaged in attacks against independent media and journalists, human rights defenders, and opposition figures. These abuses are further enabled by the recent passage of the Digital Security Act,  which criminalises the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to freedom of association.


The continued detention of Shahidul Alam is a clear example of the Bangladesh government’s attack on freedom of opinion, and expression. Alam, a well-known photographer and human rights activist from Bangladesh, founded the Drik Photo Gallery and was arrested shortly after he posted on Facebook about the protests for road safety in Dhaka in August 2018.


The 13th November 2018 marks 100 days since Alam’s arrest under the controversial Section 57 (2) of the Information Communication and Technology (ICT) Act (2013). He is accused of spreading propaganda against the Government. Scores of journalists, human rights defenders, writers and online activists have been charged with ‘unlawful’ online expression, as the ICT Act draconically criminalises online dissent and criticism of public affairs in Bangladesh. The Digital Security Act passed this year by the Parliament of Bangladesh has further strengthened the power of the Government to curb online freedom of expression and has created an atmosphere of fear and self–censorship.


Shahidul Alam has been denied bail five times, and in the latest attempt the Bangladesh High Court even refused to hear his bail petition. Alam was reportedly also tortured while in custody. FORUM-ASIA considers the treatment of Alam an egregious violation of human rights, which is setting a threatening precedent on the safety of human rights defenders and activists in Bangladesh.


In undertaking an official visit to Bangladesh yourself, I would urge you to press the Government of Bangladesh to accept visit requests from the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders; the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression; the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association; the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture; the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions; the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances; and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. These are the mandates that can most directly address many of the core issues raised by UN Member States during the UPR, the UN Human Rights Committee, and by you in your opening remarks to the UN Human Rights Council.


Your office has a critical role to play. Bangladesh remains a close partner of the UN. Bangladesh is also one of the largest contributors of military personnel to UN Peacekeeping missions. But it must also be a closer partner of the UN human rights mechanisms. In previous election cycles there has been a marked increase in violence and repression. Attention from your office and other UN human rights bodies can help reverse this trend.


William Nicholas Gomes

Journalist and Human Rights Activist




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