Kabir Kishore

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Bangladeshi political cartoonist Kabir Kishore was arrested on May 5, 2020. He is accused of running a Facebook page that allegedly violated Bangladesh’s Digital Security Act. A total of 11 people are named in the police complaint and are accused of spreading rumors and misinformation on Facebook about the coronavirus pandemic.

Rapid Action Battalion paramilitary forces arrested Kishore at his home at about 2:30 a.m. on May 5, in relation to a complaint filed by Rapid Action Battalion 3 Deputy Assistant Director Abu Bakkar Siddique at a police station in the Ramna neighborhood of Dhaka, which named Kishore, four additional journalists, and six others, according to news reports. One of the journalists, Mushtaq Ahmed, also remains in detention, according to those reports.

Authorities seized two of Kishore’s phones, an external hard drive, a desktop computer, and 200 CDs during his arrest, and said they found evidence that Kishore was “spreading rumors to create confusions by drawing cartoons of different ruling-party leaders,” according to those reports. 

Kishore and the 10 other people named in the complaint are accused of “spreading rumors and misinformation on Facebook about the coronavirus situation,” Dhaka Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Shamim Ahmed told Agence France-Presse. 

Police allege that six of the individuals named in the complaint, including Kishore, ran the Facebook page “I am Bangladeshi,” which allegedly tarnished the image of the country and created confusion among the public, according to Netra News

That page, which has more than 450,000 followers, frequently posts commentary on Bangladeshi politics and social issues. When CPJ reviewed the page, it appeared as though many of its posts had been taken down. Rezaur Rahman Lenin, a Dhaka-based human rights consultant for the U.N. Resident Coordinator’s Office and human rights activist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview in September 2020, said that Kishore’s cartoons were published on “I am Bangladeshi,” but said he did not know whether Kishore had uploaded them himself or if another user had done so.

Authorities allege that Kishore violated sections 21, 25b(ii), 31, and 35 of the Digital Security Act, which relate to publishing propaganda; publishing false or offensive information; and publishing information that can destroy communal harmony and create unrest, respectively, according to police documents reviewed by CPJ. If charged and convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 10 million taka (US$118,000), according to the Digital Security Act.

Prior to his arrest, Kishore had published a cartoon series, “Life in the Time of Corona,” on his personal Facebook page, which included caricatures of ruling party leaders, allegations of corruption in the health sector, and criticism of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Posts from Kishore’s personal Facebook profile are also mentioned in the police complaint, which CPJ reviewed. 

Kishore was denied bail by the lower court, Z. I. Khan Panna, the journalist’s lawyer, told CPJ in late 2020. 

Panna said that no formal charges had been filed in the case as of late 2020. Kishore is being held at Dhaka Central Jail, Keraniganj, Panna said.

When CPJ reached him by phone, Rapid Action Battalion spokesperson Ashique Billah declined to comment on Kishore’s case, saying it was under investigation.