Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bangladesh / "Social Cleansing"

Police in Bangladesh Close Photo Exhibit
By David Gonzalez
The New York Times (Lens blog), March 23, 2010
"Shahidul Alam had hoped his 'Crossfire' exhibit on extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh would 'shock people out of their comfort zone' and provoke a response. He got his wish. Minutes before the show was to open on Monday afternoon, the police shut down his gallery in the Dhanmondi district of Dhaka. But instead of stifling public debate, the government's action has had the opposite effect: art students have formed a human chain at the university and lawyers are preparing to bring legal action to reopen the show. 'It really has galvanized public opinion,' Mr. Alam said in a telephone interview on Tuesday from southern Bangladesh. 'People were angry and ready -- they just needed a catalyst. The exhibit has become in a sense iconic of the resistance.' The photography exhibit was a symbolic treatment of the wave of executions carried out by the Rapid Action Battalion, an anticrime squad whose many critics say that it engages in violent social cleansing. Rather than document actual killings -- something already done at great length by groups like Human Rights Watch -- Mr. Alam created a series of large, moody prints that touched on aspects of actual cases. ... Although the killings have drawn international condemnation, they have continued, despite promises by the government to rein in the battalion. Mr. Alam, a photographer, writer and activist, had hoped that his track record and international reputation would offer the 'Crossfire' show some protection. But the police and officials from the battalion began to put pressure on him around midday, according to a press release from the gallery, insisting that the exhibit did not have the necessary official permission. As the 4 p.m. opening hour approached, the police closed the gallery, saying the show would create 'anarchy.' [...]"

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