Bangladesh’s Minister of Cultural Affairs, Asaduzzaman Noor, has offered assurances that the controversial imprisonment of photojournalist Shahidul Alam will “be resolved” soon.
Alam was jailed on August 5 and has been refused bail five times. The award-winning photojournalist, whose photographs have been published in The New York Times and National Geographic, has been accused of violating section 57 of Bangladesh's Information and Communication Technology Act.
Alam’s arrest came after he posted videos on social media and conducted an interview with broadcaster Al Jazeera in which he criticised recent government attacks on student protesters in Dhaka. The government claims the 63-year-old’s interview contained “provocative comments”.
In an exclusive interview with The National at Dhaka Lit Fest, Mr Noor, who is a member of the ruling Awami League party, said: "Let me tell you one thing, everybody is free to talk. You should watch our television shows and you will see that everybody is criticising the government.
“The right to speak is always there but at the same time the government has some responsibility, so sometimes there are two ends that won’t meet. But in time, this problem will be resolved.
“If you look at our newspapers, watch our television shows, [go to] the public rallies of opposition parties, they are criticising [the government] every time and every day. Even here on this platform [at Dhaka Lit Fest], there will be some criticism. We don’t stop it.”
Tens of thousands of students took to the streets in August in protest over road safety after two teenagers were killed by a bus on July 29. Police fired teargas and rubber bullets at the crowd. Amnesty International has called for Alam to be “immediately and unconditionally released”.
Mr Noor, who is one of Bangladesh's most popular actors, also told The National that the role of the artist and the politician in society is comparable.
“Actors, writers, poets and painters: they all belong to the society, they belong to the people and they reflect the pains and the happiness of the people,” he said. “Without connectivity with society and with people, a person cannot be an artist.
“And a true politician must follow the same set of rules: to connect with the people. The artist and the politician are for the people, they must work for the people, they must serve the people, so I don’t see that there is any difference between the two, politics and culture.”