Bangladesh lifts ban on extrajudicial executions images display

Amnesty International has welcomed the Bangladesh government’s decision to lift a ban on an exhibition of photographs raising awareness about alleged extrajudicial executions carried out by a special police unit. The High Court in Dhaka heard a petition on Tuesday challenging the police for surrounding the Drik Picture Library and stopping visitors from entering the ‘Crossfire’ exhibition. The petition was filed by the director of the Drik Picture Library, Dr Shahidul Alam, a photojournalist who created the exhibition which included photographs based on Drik’s case studies, pictures and maps, showing sites where victims of extrajudicial executions in Bangladesh, which government officials have portrayed as deaths in “cross fire”,  were reportedly found.The hearing did not proceed to a court ruling because government lawyers informed the judges that police had already been withdrawn from outside the gallery. The court encouraged the petitioners to file another petition if restrictions on the gallery were re-imposed. Amnesty International has urged the Bangladesh authorities not to impose any other restriction on peaceful protests against extrajudicial executions in future, and to bring the perpetrators to justice.Hundreds of people have been killed in Bangladesh since 2004 when the special police force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), was established.In most cases, victims who die in the custody of RAB and other police personnel are later announced to have been killed during “crossfire” or police “shoot-outs”.Amnesty International and other human rights organizations consider these killings to be extrajudicial executions.”This is a victory on many fronts,” Dr Shahidul Alam said in statement following his victory.”The right of Bangladeshi people to be informed, the rights of artists and media professionals to speak out, and the citizens’ right to protest against injustice, are all important factors, but the fact that the judiciary can stand up to the government gives renewed hope to a people fighting to establish the rule of law.”It happened because the nation was united in protest, and that protest against all forms of injustice must continue.”In a later email to Amnesty International he also said: “The statements from Amnesty and other human rights organizations also played a role in getting the news out, in mobilizing public opinion and I am sure in influencing the decisions taken by the government. This solidarity is our greatest weapon.”The exhibition was officially reopened at a press conference on Wednesday, having been shut down for over a week.On 22 March, hours before the exhibition was due to open, police moved in and demanded that the organizers cancel it. When they refused to shut it down police closed the premises, claiming that the exhibition had no official permission to open and would “create anarchy”.Police were deployed outside the gallery for a week until they were withdrawn on Tuesday afternoon.