A funny thing happened on the way to the exhibition.
On Sunday, Bangladeshi police descended upon Drik Gallery in Dhaka to prevent the launch of a photo exhibition on Tibet. BDNews24 reports:
Dhaka, Nov 1 (bdnews24.com)—Police prevented Drik Gallery in Dhanmondi from launching an exhibition, titled ‘Into Exile: Tibet 1949 – 2009′, on Sunday.
The exhibition was organised by ‘Students for a Free Tibet’, and includes some very rare photos of the Dalai Lama’s journey into exile.
An hour before the launch, scheduled for 5pm, police shut the gates preventing public from entering the gallery, said Drik authorities.
Drik managing director Shahidul Alam said Bangladesh Police Special Branch spoke with him and asked him to stop the exhibition citing a “government order”.
Alam said, although the police officers could not produce any document of the order, they threatened to shut down the show by force if the organisers did not do so willingly.
According to DrikNEWS, representatives from the Chinese Embassy requested the the weeklong photography exhibition be cancelled.
Drik authorities said they came under pressure for last two days to close down the exhibition.
Alam told bdnews24.com, “The day before yesterday (Friday), two officers from the Chinese Embassy came and asked us to cancel the exhibition.”
“After that I also received a series of phone calls from the ministry of cultural affairs and from a number of MPs.”
“On Saturday, officers from the Special Branch of police came and exerted pressure to stop the exhibition according to a ‘government order’. I wanted a written copy of the government order but they refused to show me.”
The chief guest, who was to inaugurate the exhibition, was the chairman of Transparency International, Dr. Muzaffar Ahmed. I wonder if the government sees the irony in its police action.
This is the sad reality of Bangladesh. A country that has been ostensibly independent since 1971 uses its shock troops in the service of powerful foreign governments. The Bangladesh government has embarrassingly surrendered its sovereignty in order to appease its Chinese masters. Yet all of this is perfectly in line with the Bangladesh Constitution. Article 39 of the Bangladesh Constitution has a curious stipulation. Even though the Constitution guarantees freedom of thought and conscience, it is not so generous when it comes to freedom of speech, expression and press. Article 39 in it entirety states:
Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech.
(1) Freedom or thought and conscience is guaranteed. Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech.
(2) Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence- the right of every citizen of freedom of speech and expression; and freedom of the press, are guaranteed. [Emphasis added by me]
So, according to the Bangladesh Constitution, a citizen can think whatever he or she wants, but he or she dare not say it, or express it, or publish it if it goes against the interests of “friendly relations with foreign states”. Bangladeshi citizens sadly are at the mercy of powerful states like China when it comes to exercising what they believe are rights they earned in 1971 at the cost of 3 million lives.
So, I feel bad for Drik and Bangladeshis who thought they could learn something about Tibet through the medium of art. But, sadly, they are working under an illusion of freedom. My friend and prominent Bangladeshi blogger Shada Kalo has written a post chastising the Bangladesh government for failing to “protect and follow the constitution of Bangladesh” in preventing the exhibition, but Shada Kalo has also been duped by this illusion. The government is sadly not in unconstitutional territory.
The illusion is the false promise of freedom in Bangladesh’s Constitution. It is incumbent on Bangladeshi citizens to demand this travesty be corrected. If not, it will not only be photo exhibitions that suffer.