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  • Sep 15, 2020

Performance about Bangladeshi extrajudicial killings Attacked

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A performance by Drik Gallery on September 4 at the University of Dhaka was stormed by a large group of pro-government activists, allegedly led by councillor Hasibur Rahman Manik and accompanied by the Dhaka police. The performance, live-streamed via the Gallery’s Facebook page, was staged as a protest against the extrajudicial killing of civilians by government forces. 

As part of the performance, Drik members and selected participants gathered at the Raju Bhahskorjo memorial sculpture on the university campus, with some lying on the ground within chalk outlines while others held up photographs from the Crossfire (2010) series by photojournalist and Drik Gallery founder Shahidul Alam. Within minutes of starting the performance, according to Drik's Facebook statement, “bus loads of people . . . carrying pro government placards and shouting slogans came over to Raju Bhahskorjo,” and “tried to snatch away our banner and tear up our photographs.” The group then also began “mimicking the performers and later started threatening them.”

According to a statement released by 60 human-rights activists on September 6, the group of “more than 100 activists of the ruling party [was] led by councillor of 26 no. ward of Dhaka South City Corporation Hasibur Rahman Manik,” as reported by the Daily Star. The Dhaka police reportedly stood and watched as the event took place. According to the Gallery, one photograph from Alam's series is missing while three others suffered damage.

Alam’s photographs from Crossfire highlight sites of civilians believed to have been murdered at the hands of the Bangladeshi special unit police, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), who have allegedly abducted and killed more than 1,000 civilians in the last three years alone. Two new portraits were included in the performance, including one of Teknaf ward councillor Ekramul Haque, who was killed in 2018, and one of the retired major Sinha Mohammad Rashed Khan, who was killed in July. 

When Crossfire was first exhibited at Drik Gallery in 2010, the exhibition was shut down by riot police before it even opened. At the time, government officials accused Alam of spreading false information. In 2018, the photographer was detained by the police without bail for more than 100 days under section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology Act, which “authorises the prosecution of any person who publishes, in electronic form, material that . . . causes, or may cause, deterioration in law and order.” 

Margarita Cheng is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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