Shahidul Alam has been treated in a disgraceful way. We demand his release.
But what I want to emphasize is the damage to the state if a voice such as his is silenced. If creative artists and intellectuals such as Shahidul Alam are silenced, then the conscience of the state is killed. It is the role of the creative artist and the intellectual to offer constructive criticism so that the state can be a real democracy. And this is not allowed when the state makes these laws that simply say: we will punish you if you perform your task.
Thus on this occasion, an occasion of absolute outrage on the threshold of the United Nations, it’s not just the abstract right to the freedom of speech that we are defending, but rather the freedom of speech of a very particular person, a global person. Of course I believe in noninterference in the internal affairs of nations. But I’m speaking from the community of artists and intellectuals because this is what we perceive to be our obligation towards a global establishment of democracy.
The state has followed the usual ways of silencing. First to say, he lied. But this is absolutely untrue. I myself saw the video of his abduction with his voice claiming innocence, demanding a lawyer. And there is of course plenty of evidence in the photographs, in reported news, all over the place.
And then to say, ethical critique is party politics: to say that he is a creature of the opposition. That too is disgraceful.
We know Shahidul Alam well. His impulse is ethical. Indeed, he is actually speaking for the state so that it can be a true democracy. And to silence such a voice and eye, is to create a culture of fear, where justice becomes nothing but vengeance, and indeed power is the only thing that is understood.
This is why, and not just because his rights have been taken away, that we raise our voice.
We know him.
We cannot accept this unjust sacrifice. We demand his release because the laws that he has supposedly broken are not laws. They are put together to silence the conscience of the state. And therefore we demand freedom of expression, freedom of speech, right to safety, and we condemn torture.
The Prime Minister of Bangladesh has received two awards for helping the Rohingyas. I myself am active in the Rohingya movement. And as such I say to her: do not stop with the geopolitics of international refuge. Bring justice home. Free Shahidul Alam, now.
Written by: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak