Have you ever been arrested for disagreeing? Well, consider yourself lucky. A speechless Bangladeshi singer with a huge internet following was not so lucky as he was arrested by police at dawn and told to stop his pained renditions of classic songs, sparking an outcry over social networks.
“Hero” Alom, as he calls himself, has amassed nearly 2 million subscribers on Facebook and nearly 1.5 million on YouTube with his unique crooning style and riveting, raunchy videos.
One of his acts, “Arabian Song”, in which he appears in traditional Arab attire on a sand dune with camels superimposed in the background, has garnered 17 million views.
However, it also drew scorn from critics, especially for versions of classic songs by two beloved national treasures – Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore and Bangladeshi national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam.
On Wednesday, Alom told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that he had been “mentally tortured” last week by police who told him to stop singing classic songs, that he was too ugly to be a singer and sign an “apology” bond.
“The police came to pick me up at 6 a.m. and kept me there for eight hours. They asked me why I was singing Rabindra and Nazrul songs,” he said.
Dhaka Chief Detective Harun ur Rashid told reporters that Alom apologized for singing the cherished songs and wearing police uniforms without permission in his videos.
“We received many complaints against him,” Harun said.
“(He) totally changed the (traditional) style (of singing)…He assured us that he wouldn’t repeat that,” Harun added.
Farook Hossain, Dhaka’s deputy police commissioner, dismissed claims by Alom, 37, that he had also been pressured to change his name.
“He’s making these comments just to go viral on social media,” he told AFP.
Following his ordeal, Alam posted a new video showing him behind bars in prison gear, tweeting sadly that he is about to be hanged.
Alom’s treatment has sparked outrage on social media, with commentators and activists calling it an attack on individual rights – even as his singing irritates.
“I am not a fan of your songs or your acting. But if there is an attempt to muzzle your voice, I oppose it,” posted journalist Aditya Arafat.
“Don’t be broken. You are a hero. No matter what others say, you are a true hero,” Sanjida Khatun Rakhi wrote on Alom’s Facebook page.
Alom says he has acted in several films and also contested Bangladesh’s 2018 parliamentary elections as an independent candidate – garnering 638 votes.
He told AFP at his studio in Dhaka that he started using the nickname “Hero” after becoming popular in his hometown of Bogra, 150 kilometers (95 miles) north of Dhaka.
“I felt like a hero. So I took the name Hero Alom. I won’t drop that name no matter what,” he said.
“Right now, it seems like you can’t even sing freely in Bangladesh.”