Bangladesh frees photographer facing charges of propaganda

An acclaimed photographer has been released from a jail in Bangladesh more than three months after he was arrested on charges of spreading false information about a street protest and propaganda against the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Prison official Mahbubul Islam said photographer Shahidul Alam was released late Tuesday following an all-day wait after his family and lawyers provided the proper documents from the High Court that granted him permanent bail on Nov. 15.

After his release Alam briefly told reporters that he expected a free-speech environment in the country. “We expect that in independent Bangladesh, people will be able to speak freely,” he said.

Alam founded Drik Gallery and Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, which groomed many Bangladeshi photographers now working at home and abroad. In his career of more than 40 years, his work has been published in most globally renowned media.

After two students were killed in a road accident in Bangladesh’s capital, protests by thousands of students blocked roads for a week, paralyzing the city of more than 10 million people and disconnecting it from the rest of the country. Hasina promised tougher traffic measures to improve safety on streets but urged the students to go back to school.

The protest became an embarrassment to Hasina’s government, which faces a general election Dec. 30. She blamed the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, and its main ally Jamaat-e-Islami for trying to manipulate the students’ anger to foment trouble.

Many protesters used Facebook Live to stream information about the protests. Authorities say Alam used digital platforms to spread false information that instigated the chaos and tarnished the country’s image.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others demanded Alam’s release after his arrest in August, and they criticized Hasina for taking repressive measures against free speech.