Bangladeshi writer, detained over social media posts, dies in jail

Written by Julfikar Ali Manik and Mujib Mashal

A Bangladeshi author who was detained for practically a yr over social media posts that had been essential of the nation’s authorities has died in jail, officers and members of the family stated Friday, elevating alarms concerning the nation’s crackdown on dissent.

The author, Mushtaq Ahmed, was amongst 11 individuals charged early final yr over the unfold of social media content material, together with cartoons, that alleged mismanagement and corruption in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s response to the pandemic.

His case was introduced beneath Bangladesh’s Digital Safety Act, a 2018 regulation that provides the federal government wide-ranging powers to look, wonderful and arrest anybody who violates its obscure tenets, together with violating “the solidarity, monetary actions, safety, protection, non secular values or public self-discipline of the nation.”

Critics say it has been used to stifle dissent. The Asian Human Rights Fee stated it had documented the arrest of 138 individuals final yr — journalists, college students and political activists — for criticizing Hasina’s authorities.

Ahmed was held in the high-security Kashimpur jail and was denied bail six instances.

Rights organizations demanded an investigation into his dying and referred to as for the repeal of the Digital Safety Act, which additionally contains measures to guard in opposition to cybercrimes and assaults.

Mohammad Gias Uddin, the senior superintendent of the jail the place Ahmed was held, stated the author had misplaced consciousness Thursday night and was taken to the jail hospital. Jail guards later took him to a bigger medical facility in the close by metropolis Gazipur, however was he was pronounced useless on arrival, Uddin stated.

Docs on the jail reported that Ahmed “by no means complained about his well being points,” Uddin stated of the author, who was 54. “He used to take drugs for gastric and headache.”

Nafeesur Rahman, a cousin of Ahmed’s who can also be a doctor, stated he had been current through the post-mortem.

“I’ve not discovered any harm mark wherever on his physique,” Rahman stated, including that Ahmed’s coronary heart was discovered to be enlarged and that his blood strain had been very low when he misplaced his acutely aware.

The police grievance in opposition to Ahmed and the ten others accused them of spreading misinformation and rumors concerning the coronavirus and damaging the federal government’s picture by sowing confusion via social media. The fees had been nationalistic in tone, accusing them of “posting rumors in opposition to the Father of the Nation, the battle of independence.”

In one in every of his final posts on Fb earlier than his pre-dawn arrest in Could by elite forces, Ahmed in contrast the nation’s well being minister to a cockroach. In one other, he wrote, “When a society laments the lack of an financial system greater than the lack of human life, it doesn’t want a virus, it’s already sick.”

Aliya Iftikhar, the senior Asia researcher on the Committee to Shield Journalists, referred to as his dying “a devastating and unconscionable loss.”

Mizanur Rahman, a regulation professor on the College of Dhaka and a former chairman of Bangladesh’s Nationwide Human Rights Fee, stated the Digital Safety Act was getting used to shrink free speech in the nation.

“All of us have to grasp that criticizing the federal government just isn’t a seditious offense in any respect,” Rahman stated. “Mushtaq Ahmed was not discovered responsible — he was in jail for 9 months solely based mostly on allegations of criticizing the federal government, and his dying in jail is completely unacceptable.”

Bangladesh, one of many world’s most densely populated nations, which additionally has poor well being infrastructure, was all the time going to be weak to the coronavirus. Issues concerning the pandemic had been compounded by accusations of deep corruption in the more and more authoritarian authorities of a rustic that has been liable to coups and political violence.

Additionally amongst these arrested in Ahmed’s case is famend cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, who stored a Fb journal of political cartoons essential of the federal government referred to as “Life in the Time of Corona.”

Kishore stays in jail regardless of an enchantment by a panel of consultants from the United Nations Human Rights Council. The panel stated Kishore needs to be launched on humanitarian grounds, simply as the federal government has launched hundreds of others as a COVID-19 precaution, due to well being situations that make him weak to the coronavirus.

An announcement by the Committee to Shield Journalists relating to Ahmed’s dying expressed concern that in Kishore’s newest court docket listening to, on Tuesday, he had reported to family that he was “subjected to extreme bodily abuse whereas in police custody, sustaining a critical leg harm and ear accidents which have led to infections as a result of lack of ample medical care.”

“When my brother Kishore was produced earlier than the court docket on Feb. 23, I used to be current there,” Ahsan Kabir, his brother, stated in a phone interview. “Kishore instructed me that he had been tortured between Could 2 and Could 6.”

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