In May 2021, Shahnewaz Chowdhury’s village was swept up by a tidal surge after Cyclone Yaas. Homes were destroyed. Shahnewaz wrote a Facebook post about the impact of a local power plant, linking fossil fuels to the environmental destruction of his region.
He was arrested for his Facebook post and detained for 80 days under Bangladesh’s oppressive Digital Security Act. Shahnewaz was granted bail, but if convicted, he faces many years in prison.
“I felt like I was being buried alive. I was deprived of all care and affection.”
A Letter from Shahnewaz Chowdhury
As I write this, Shahnewaz has been released on bail as he awaits his trial. If convicted, he faces many more years in prison – just for voicing his opinion on Facebook.
As a supporter of Amnesty, I know you feel a deep sense of injustice as you read this. In this moment, your action can help us to protect the voices and lives of people like Shahnewaz.
Shahnewaz grew up in a coastal village in the Banshkhali District, a low-lying area in the south-east of Bangladesh that’s vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. He grew up experiencing regular, catastrophic cyclones and tidal waves that would destroy homes, and claim lives.
“Crisis is a constant companion of our lives.”
In May 2021, Shahnewaz took to Facebook to raise his concerns about a new coal-fired power plant that was due to be established in his community. While he knew there would be risks, he felt a responsibility to speak up – for the sake of his family and his community’s future.
“Since childhood, we have faced cyclones, tidal waves and many other adverse environmental disasters in our area,” he explains. “Establishing another dangerous power plant over here will cause massive damages and more adverse effects that we cannot imagine.”
Two days later, police came to Shahnewaz’s home in the middle of the night. They arrested him and took him to a prison around 15km from his home.
“Inside the prison…it was like a graveyard. We were confined for 14 consecutive days with 82 people in a room of 650 square feet with only three unhygienic toilets. It was the worst experience of my life,” Shahnewaz recalls.
“Every minute was like an hour and every day was like a month. We were all crammed inside and I could not sleep, if I managed to, the sleep was not proper.”
Your support of Amnesty shows that you’re the kind of person who can’t stand by while activists like Shahnewaz are being imprisoned for speaking truth to power.
Your kind gift will help protect the voices and lives of people like Shahnewaz, as they continue to fearlessly stand up for a more just future for all.
During his time in prison, Shahnewaz was denied visits from his family. A few days after his arrest, he learned through a letter that his father had suffered a stroke due to stress.
“I was really worried that if my father did not recover or died for some reason, I would not be able to see him again,” he says. “My mother is also sick, and my wife is having a lot of problems taking care of my children, and there were house rent issues and my father’s medical expenses.”
With the support of passionate people like you, Amnesty International campaigned for Shahnewaz’s release. His bail was approved in August 2021, and he was reunited with his family.
“I felt like I had returned from the grave,” he said. “The greatest joy was seeing my children after so many days. It cannot be expressed in words how happy those moments were.”
However, as his trial approaches, Shahnewaz knows that these moments of freedom may be coming to an end.
“At present, our country’s courts and administration provide or give judgements in favour of the powerful people, the rich and the industrialists,” says Shahnewaz. “As we are common citizens, and I am a poor man, I am very scared and tense and I really have doubts that the judgement will be in our favour.”
If he is found guilty, Shahnewaz faces many more years in prison away from those he loves and the environment he so deeply cares about. He tries his best to remain hopeful about what the future holds and wants to continue to do what he can to make the world a healthier place for all.
“Everyone should have the right to access clean air and clean water, including myself, our children, and the future generations….I will continue working as hard as possible to stop climate change and my activism will continue,” says Shahnewaz.
Shahnewaz believes that human rights – including the right to speak up – must be upheld across the world for everyone.
“I wish to raise my children with the values that never compromise with truth and justice and stand beside the marginalised and help them as much as they can.”
It’s because of the kind support of people like you, that Amnesty can continue protecting the right to protest around the world. It’s because of the actions of people like you, that we can continue shining a light on human rights abuses and campaigning for change, so that activists like Shahnewaz can continue to protest without fear.
Thank you for standing with us as we continue to challenge injustice.
Your moment of action now will help us to protect the right to protest all over the world for years to come. Please make an urgent gift today.
People power works – how you can help
Millions of compassionate people like you take part in Write for Rights – Amnesty’s annual global campaign, which is on right now. For more than 20 years, we have seen the power of collective voices in action. People unjustly imprisoned freed, trumped-up charges dropped, and those who abuse human rights brought to justice.
No one should be in prison for demanding justice, and remembering the victims of a violent crackdown. Together, our voices are more powerful than you think – we can let the authorities know that we too, remember – and that we won’t sit by while brave people like Chow risk everything for their human rights.
When courageous people protest, they make the world a better place. We must protect the right to protest wherever it is restricted and whenever it is at risk. For Write for Rights 2022, we are taking action for brave individuals from around the world, who have all paid a great price for speaking truth to power. We run Write for Rights every year because it works – real change happens when ordinary people come together to take action. Learn more about Write for Rights. Write a letter, change a life – including yours.