(New York, NY) — After the High Court of Bangladesh rejected a petition from renowned photojournalist Shahidul Alam challenging the legality of criminal charges against him, PEN America again called for charges against Alam to be dropped. 

“Shahidul Alam is facing potential prison time for allegedly violating a law that no longer exists,” said Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Yet the High Court, by rejecting Alam’s petition, risks sending a distressing message that the state does not have to adhere to the rule of law when pursuing criminal charges against artists. We urge the Bangladeshi authorities to recognize the absurdity of pursuing criminal charges against Alam, and to dismiss all charges against him.”

In August 2018, Alam was arrested hours after giving an interview to media outlet Al-Jazeera about his experience photographing ongoing student protests in Bangladesh’s capital. He was charged under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act, a restrictive law regulating online speech, for “giving false information to the media.” In October 2018, Section 57 was repealed by the Digital Security Act, which states that only cases that had already gone to trial under Section 57 would continue. 

After spending 107 days in detention, undergoing torture, and being repeatedly refused bail, Alam was finally granted bail in November 2018. To this day, Alam’s case has not gone to trial. 

On March 15, 2019, Bangladesh’s High Court stayed the investigation of the case and asked the government to explain why the investigation into Alam was continuing. In the wake of Monday’s decision dismissing Alam’s petition, however, Bangladesh’s Deputy Attorney General reportedly said there was no “legal bar” stopping investigation officers from continuing their criminal inquiry. 

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. ARC recently released A Safety Guide for Artists, which offers practical tools to help artists navigate risks and features an interview with Bangladeshi photojournalist and activist Shahidul Alam, who discusses his experience in jail and the state of artistic freedom in Bangladesh. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, please contact ARC.