[26 February 2021] On 25 February 2021, writer Mushtaq Ahmed died in prison, after being in prison for almost nine and a half months in a case filed by the RAB under the Digital Security Act. Human Rights Forum Bangladesh (HRFB) is deeply shocked at his death. Highlighting the fact that his death is a result of the misuse of the Digital Security Act, HRFB demands a fair and impartial investigation to determine the cause of his death and make the findings public. It further urges the immediate release of cartoonist Kabir Kishore who was also arrested in the same case.
Mushtaq Ahmed has been in jail from May 2020 under the draconian Digital Security Act. During this time, the six bail appeals that were filed were all rejected. His family members have told the media that when he was last brought to the court on 23 February, he was looking physically unwell. Yet, he was denied bail. Cartoonist Kabir Kishore remains in prison under the same case. He too has been denied bail multiple times. Meanwhile, his physical health is also deteriorating. Serious allegation of him being tortured in custody has been made by his family.
Although our Constitution and various major international human rights standards have clearly placed emphasis on the freedom of thought and expression, right to information and freedom of press, the Forum has long maintained that the massive misuse of the Digital Security Act has been severely restricting these rights. It should also be noted that even before the law was passed, civil society organisations, human rights activists and journalists have been strongly protesting against a few specific provisions of the law. In spite of assurances from the relevant ministers, after two and a half years, no attempt has yet been made to amend the law. Rather, its misuse has only increased. Due to this, on one hand citizens are being deprived of their rights, while on the other, they are being denied the right to justice.
The Digital Security Act has turned into a tangible threat, which is creating obstacles for journalists who are trying to perform their professional responsibilities, and citizens who wish to freely exercise their conscience and intellect. Writer Mushtaq Ahmed’s has died as a direct result of the misuse of this law. Therefore, it is imperative that those responsible for this misuse be held accountable. It is also necessary to investigate whether he had been tortured in prison, and what types of medical services were provided to him.
Mushtaq Ahmed’s death yet again brought to the limelight the urgency of reforming the Digital Security Act. In this context, HRFB raises the following demands to the government:
- Ensure a fair and impartial investigation into Mushtaq Ahmed’s death in prison and make the findings of this investigation public;
- Immediately release Cartoonist Kabir Kishore, who is ill and still in prison;
- Urgently amend the Digital Security Act after discussion with all relevant stakeholders and taking their recommendations into account.