Bangladesh says photographer’s arrest not related to controversial transfer of Rohingyas

Bangladesh says photographer’s arrest not related to controversial transfer of Rohingyas
Rohingya refugees are seen next to eatery stalls at the housing complex of Bhashan Char island after they were relocated in Noakhali on December 30, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 04 January 2021

Bangladesh says photographer’s arrest not related to controversial transfer of Rohingyas

Bangladesh says photographer’s arrest not related to controversial transfer of Rohingyas
  • Activists say Abul Kalam was arrested while taking photographs of buses with Rohingyas on their way to a controversial island camp

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities on Sunday denied accusations that a Rohingya photographer in judicial custody was arrested for documenting the relocation of refugees from Cox’s Bazar to a controversial island camp in the Bay of Bengal.

Rights activists, including Bianca Jagger and Bangladeshi filmmaker Shaifur Rahman, on Friday called for the release of Abul Kalam, who they said was taking photographs of buses with Rohingya refugees on their way to the Bhasan Char island.

A second group of more that 1,804 Rohingya refugees — members of an ethnic and religious minority group who have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar — were on Tuesday taken to Bhasan Char, despite UN concerns for their safety and welfare as the island is prone to flooding and severe weather conditions. They followed a first group of 1,642 relocated to the island, 30 km from the mainland, in early December.

“Kalam was handed over to Ukhia subdistrict police station on Wednesday in connection with a case filed in June 2020. We produced him before the court on Thursday and currently he is being kept in judicial custody,” Cox’s Bazar Additional Superintendent of Police Rafikul Islam told Arab News.

Kalam, 35, has been living in Bangladesh for the past 28 years. He has been charged with obstructing government work and assaulting officials while discharging duties.

Rights activists say he was apprehended on Monday and handed over to a police station on Wednesday.

“They produced him as an ‘unnamed fugitive’ from a case going back to May 28. Not for anything that happened on Dec. 28, the day of the Bhasan Char relocation, but an incident which allegedly happened seven months earlier,” Rahman, who has been documenting Rohingya refugees and is the initiator of the campaign to release Kalam, told Arab News.

He said it was an attempt to shift the focus from Bhasan Char.

“The removal of focus from what Abul Kalam was doing on Dec. 28 — photographing Bhasan Char buses — is also conveniently handled by involving him in an unrelated case going back months,” Rahman said.

According to activists involved in the campaign to release Kalam, he came to Bangladesh from Maungdaw in Rakhine State, in the western part of Myanmar, and is a prolific photographer who has documented refugee life in recent years, and recently won two prizes in the Rohingya Photography Competition.

Mohammad Sazzad Hossain, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesman in Dhaka, told Arab News that UNHCR has been engaged with authorities since Kalam’s arrest and is providing legal aid to ensure he receives a fair hearing of any charge against him.

“UNHCR has assigned one of its partner lawyers to represent him during the investigation and any subsequent legal proceedings,” he said.