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Bangladesh: Arundhati Roy's event with Shahidul Alam goes ahead after two cancellations

Tuesday 5 March 2019 - 4:25pm

Arundhati Roy wrote to Shahidul Alam in November as part of PEN International’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer

5 March 2019 - Bangladeshi authorities twice cancelled permission to allow an event in which Booker-prize winning writer, Arundhati Roy, was to appear in conversation with photographer and PEN case, Shahidul Alam, on 5 March 2019.

“You will probably be aware that permission to hold Arundhati Roy’s talk at the pre-determined venue (Krishibid Institute) was withdrawn late last night,” the organisers said in a Facebook post. “After massive juggling and a lot of help from friends, we have been able to obtain a new venue. The talk will go on and the previous registration holds. Thanks to all the people who rallied in our support.”

The Dhaka Metropolitan Police, while revoking the permission, had cited “unavoidable circumstances” but gave no further details, according to the festival organisers.

PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee Chair Salil Tripathi said: “The lecture by the Booker Prize-winning novelist Arundhati Roy in Dhaka this evening almost did not take place. Roy was to speak at one of South Asia's largest art festivals, the Chobi Mela, which celebrates its tenth year this year. Chobi Mela's organisers had sought and obtained permission for the talk on 16 February, but with the kind of twists and turns that resemble a cliff-hanging novel, late last night authorities in Dhaka withdrew permission from the first venue, the Krishibid Institute Auditorium, due to "unavoidable circumstances." 

The organisers managed to get another venue - Midas Centre - at short notice, but the authorities intervened again, and the permission was withdrawn again for 6pm Dhaka time today. And then, less than an hour before the cancelled talk would have taken place, the authorities agreed to allow the talk to take place.

This is comical and yet outrageous. Arundhati Roy is one of the world's leading writers, a powerful dissenting voice who speaks truth - uncomfortable truth - to the authorities. She has spoken out in defence of her friend, Shahidul Alam, the festival's founder, when he was kept in detention for more than 100 days last year. While Shahidul is no longer in detention, charges against him have not been withdrawn.”

A police officer told Bangladeshi daily New Age that the permission was revoked due to security reasons.

Arundhati Roy wrote to Shahidul Alam in November as part of PEN International’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer; Alam spent more than a hundred days in prison in violation of his free expression rights:

‘Your arrest is meant to be a warning to your fellow citizens: “If we can do this to Shahidul Alam, think of what we can do to the rest of you—all you nameless, faceless, ordinary people. Watch. And be afraid.’ Read the full letter here. Shahidul responded to her after his release. You can read his response here.