Honorable Prime Minister Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Prime Minister’s Office
Old Sangsad Bhaban Tejgaon, Dhaka-1215
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Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent non-governmental organization that champions press freedom around the world, writes to request that you order independent investigations into the death in custody of writer Mushtaq Ahmed and into the alleged torture of Ahmed and political cartoonist Kabir Kishore. We also urge you to initiate the repeal of the Digital Security Act, which was used to imprison these journalists and is implicated in the abrogation of their basic human rights.
Ahmed, a writer and political commentator, died while imprisoned on February 25, 2021. He was initially detained by Rapid Action Battalion-3 officers on May 4, 2020, and was not charged until February 2021, just weeks before he died. Kishore was allegedly detained by the Rapid Action Battalion-3 on May 2, 2020. The law stipulates that an investigation report into the accusations against Ahmed and Kishore should have been submitted within 60 days, but it was not submitted for more than 245 days. Over the span of their 10 months in prison, they were both denied bail six times.
During their time in Rapid Action Battalion-3 custody, Kishore and Ahmed were allegedly tortured. Kishore, who is suffering from a number of medical ailments due to the alleged torture and subsequent lack of medical care, has filed a complaint in a Dhaka court. These allegations should be investigated immediately, and the perpetrators should be held responsible. While we welcome Kishore’s recent release on bail, we call on authorities to drop the charges against him.
These cases underscore a serious problem that we raised with you in October: the indiscriminate use of the Digital Security Act against journalists in Bangladesh. Ahmed frequently wrote political commentary on Facebook and had been critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Kishore is a political cartoonist who drew cartoons that were critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic. Both were charged under the Digital Security Act.
Criticism, commentary, and cartoons are not criminal acts. They should not lead to jail time, and they certainly should not lead to death in detention.
Ahmed and Kishore are but two examples of how the Digital Security Act has, time and again, been misused to criminalize and punish critical journalists and writers across the country.
In 2020, CPJ documented at least six journalists who were imprisoned in Bangladesh on Digital Security Act charges because of their work. This stifling of press freedom and freedom of expression has severely tarnished Bangladesh’s image around the world, far more than criticism of the government possibly could.
Law Minister Anisul Haq recently stated that the Digital Security Act will be reviewed for possible changes. But the truth is, the law’s very existence is a threat to freedom in the country. Bangladesh does not need this law to prevent crime.
As prime minister, you have the authority to ensure your government properly investigates the alleged torture of Ahmed and Kishore, and to ensure justice in their cases, including determining whether authorities were responsible for Ahmed’s death. We urge you to take this opportunity to repeal the Digital Security Act, to protect basic freedoms, and to prevent others from suffering the fate of our colleague Ahmed.
Deputy Executive Director
Committee to Protect Journalists