Shahnewaz Chowdhury was worried about the impact a new coal-fired power plant would have on his village. He took to Facebook to raise his concerns. Now he faces years in prison for speaking out.
A big cricket fan, Shahnewaz has been playing since childhood. He also has a passion for writing and uses the written word to speak out about the struggles faced by people in his region of Banshkhali, a low-lying coastal area in the south-east of Bangladesh, vulnerable to the impact of climate change.
A new coal-fired power plant in Shahnewaz’s village was supposed to be a turning point in the region’s development. But he was scared about the environmental destruction it would bring.
On 26 May 2021, the area was swept up by a storm. Heavy rainfall and strong winds pounded the village. Homes were destroyed. Worried about the impact of environmentally damaging projects like the new power plant, which he believed had contributed to an increase in tidal surges, Shahnewaz took to Facebook to raise his concerns. Encouraging young people to speak out, he wrote: “the youth of Banshkhali must resist injustice and support development through fearless writing.”
The following day, the power plant company filed a case against Shahnewaz, accusing him of posting false information. On 28 May 2021, he was arrested by the police for his Facebook post under Bangladesh’s oppressive Digital Security Act. He was detained in inhumane conditions for 80 days, without trial. Shahnewaz was granted bail on 16 August 2021, but if he’s convicted, he faces many years in prison.