New York, February 25, 2021 — Bangladeshi authorities should conduct a swift, transparent, and independent investigation into the death of writer and commentator Mushtaq Ahmed in custody, and should release jailed political cartoonist Kabir Kishore unconditionally and investigate claims that he was subjected to physical abuse in custody, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Ahmed was pronounced dead on arrival today at the Shaheed Tajuddin Ahmed Medical College Hospital, in the central city of Gazipur, after being transported from the Kashimpur Jail; he had been held since May for allegedly violating the country’s Digital Security Act, according to news reports and CPJ research.
The circumstances and cause of death are not yet known, Jyotirmoy Barua, Ahmed’s lawyer, told CPJ in a phone interview. Barua said that neither he nor Ahmed’s family members had been contacted by authorities informing them of the death, and that he learned about it via social media.
“Mushtaq Ahmed’s death in a Bangladeshi prison, where he never should have been detained in the first place, is a devastating and unconscionable loss,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher. “The Bangladeshi government must allow an independent inquiry into how Mushtaq Ahmed died and move immediately to repeal the Digital Security Act, which it has used repeatedly and unjustly against journalists.”
On February 23, Ahmed appeared in court and was in decent health, Barua told CPJ. At that court appearance, Ahmed expressed concern about the health of political cartoonist Kabir Kishore, a co-accused in his case, according to Rezaur Rahman Lenin, a human rights activist and consultant for the U.N. Resident Coordinator’s Office, who attended the hearing and spoke to CPJ via phone.
At the hearing, Kishore passed a note to his brother stating that he had been subjected to severe physical abuse while in police custody, sustaining a serious leg injury and ear injuries that have led to infections due to lack of adequate medical care, according to news reports, Lenin, and Barua; the note did not describe the exact nature of the abuse, according to those sources. Kishore has also been imprisoned since May, according to CPJ research.
Earlier this month, Ahmed and Kishore were formally charged under the Digital Security Act, as CPJ documented at the time; authorities accuse the two of spreading rumors and misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic on Facebook.
CPJ repeatedly called the Bangladesh Prison Headquarters and the Inspector General of Prisons, Md Mominur Rahman Mamun, for comment, but no one answered. CPJ also emailed the prison headquarters, but did not receive any immediate response.