Human rights campaigners call for release of jailed Rohingya photographer


International human rights figures, organisations and journalists have called on Bangladesh government for the immediate release of Abul Kalam, an award-winning photographer and Rohingya refugee arrested for photographing the transfer of Rohingyas to Bhasan Char.

Mr. Kalam, 35, has been held since Monday morning when he was reportedly beaten before being taken to police barracks near the Kutupalong refugee camp, where he has lived since leaving Myanmar as a child refugee in the early 1990s.

“Photography is not a crime. Abul Kalam was taking photos of buses on their way to Bhasan Char … it is by no means a secret and has been extensively covered in the media,” said a letter calling for his release.

The letter was signed by Bangladeshi and international rights activists and journalists, including Bianca Jagger, renowned Bangladesh photographer Shahidul Alam, who was detained for months after covering protests in 2018, prominent lawyer Sara Hossain and Prof Penny Green, founder of the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London.

On Monday, Bangladesh moved up to 1,000 people, its second batch of relocations from Cox’s Bazar, which is the world’s largest refugee camp, to the isolated island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal.

The relocations have been criticised because Bangladesh has not permitted an independent assessment of the island’s safety, despite concerns about its vulnerability to natural disasters.

Two other Rohingya refugees said they had avoided taking pictures of the relocation because of threats and concerns for their safety.

The UN’s refugee chief, Filippo Grandi, also raised concerns in December about whether the refugees were being relocated voluntarily, as Bangladesh claimed, after accusations of coercion.

A UNHCR spokesperson said: “UNHCR has been engaged with the authorities since the arrest of Abu lKalam on 28 December and is following the situation closely 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.”

Earlier this month Abul Kalam won two awards for his work in the Rohingya Photography Competition. (Source: The Guardian)