Internationally renowned photographer Dr. Shahidul Alam, Managing Director of Drik, and VII Foundation board member, was forcibly abducted from his house in Dhanmondi, Dhaka after 10 pm on August 5, 2018. According to security guards of the apartment building and other eyewitness reports, there were roughly 30 to 35 men, in plain clothes, who claimed to be from the Detective Branch (DB), who went upstairs, brought down Dr Alam, who was screaming as he was forcibly pushed into the waiting car, a HiAce, with the words Popular Life Insurance, written on the outside. They taped up the CCTV camera and took away the CCTV camera footage. The guards were manhandled and locked up. His partner Rahnuma Ahmed, was in a neighboring flat, raced downstairs on hearing the scream, but the car carrying him and two other cars waiting outside, sped away.
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In light of the recent story in the Columbia Journalism Review about sexual harassment in the photojournalism industry, we want to reiterate that the photographers of VII are committed to maintaining a safe, creative and inclusive environment, free of harassment and intimidation. We are unable to comment on individual allegations while we examine them, but the circumstances surrounding the allegation of physical molestation made in the article against founding member Antonin Kratochvil were shocking to us.
We learned this new information when CJR’s reporter approached us, and in response, VII immediately suspended founding member Antonin Kratochvil and initiated an investigation. These actions and a statement were made public in the CJR article published several days later. Additionally, we will conduct an internal review of the agency with an independent review board comprising experts from media, human rights and government, among others.
We have long recognized that there are too few opportunities in the industry for non-male, non-Western and non-white voices. For the last two decades a number of our members have been at the forefront of initiatives, both inside and outside the agency, that challenge that lack of diversity. Last autumn, we set ourselves the task of adding important new voices to VII that better represent the world that we live in.
The photographers we invited into membership are men and women who are inspirational leaders in our industry. We have grown, but remain a small agency made up of men and women dispersed all over the world who meet once for three days every year with the same vision in mind.
In 2017 we implemented into our education initiatives a new code of ethics in line with United States higher education standards. Every mentor and educator at VII is obliged and has committed to working in accordance with the new code of ethics, setting a rigorous standard for ethical behavior in the industry.
Also in 2017, in response to charges of harassment against photo editors, we created an internal female-led reporting structure that can be used to report inappropriate behavior inside and outside the agency.
VII began 17 years ago as a small collective of seven photojournalists who envisioned a new model of agency: collaborative, innovative, empowering, mutually supportive and dedicated to fighting injustice. In that same spirit, in the summer of 2017, we turned the lens on ourselves and began to make long overdue and significant structural changes within the agency, which we made public in February of 2018. This has been an ongoing process, and we regard the changes already made as just the beginning.
Our aim at VII is to continue to work towards building an agency that operates with total equality and inclusivity among our ranks.
On a recent assignment for The New York Times, Nichole Sobecki photographed a group of Muslim women in Zanzibar who are challenging a culture that says only men can play soccer.
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