Despite Prison and Torture, Shahidul Alam Refuses to Stay Quiet

Despite Prison and Torture, Shahidul Alam Refuses to Stay Quiet

Q: Does the spotlight that you are in right now affect your own photography?

A: I’m still in danger. The case still hangs so I still potentially face 14 years in prison. More significantly, on an everyday level, the way I operate is very different. I go around on my bicycle, I stop in the street, I talk to people. I work in a very organic manner. Now it’s no longer safe for me to do that because when I was being attacked on the 4th of August, I was just one person taking pictures.

Now the spotlight means that I am visible and they know that I am a threat to the government. So there are lots of people out there who would want to get Brownie points. Getting rid of a bad guy would give them credit with the government. So I can’t take that risk, so I’m not cycling, I don’t walk on my own, I’m never on my own, I drive to places, I have other people with me. And that all just impinges on the way I work and what I can do.

Q: Journalists in the United States benefit from a certain level of protection where we don’t necessarily have to think about a lot of these things when we’re working in the States. Does your role shift when you’re here, and should we be thinking about our role differently?

A: You say you’re in a position of better protection. I think you suffer from a level of complacency. If I were in this place, I would really worry a lot more. The average American — it might not be true for some of you — but when I talk to people in the street, I’m amazed by how ignorant they generally are.

People in Bangladesh are far more politically savvy. Honestly, over here, the issues are far more about houses and mortgages and careers and all this sort of thing and not about the bigger issues. There are not that many people who engage with the world as such, not many people know the rest of the world. The problem here really is we are in a zone of comfort to such an extent that we’re insulated from that position, and that to me is a bigger fear.

If I were here, I would need to work a lot harder to ensure that I was still at the edge, because stepping back is so much easier. And no one worries about it, you’re applauded for doing well in your career, you’re applauded for having that mortgage, you’re applauded for building a house or whatever else. The fact that you’ve not done what you were meant to do, that as journalist your position is to be there on the line.

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