Bangladeshi writer and commentator Mushtaq Ahmed was arrested on May 4, 2020 and died in custody on February 25, 2021. He was accused of running a Facebook page that allegedly violated Bangladesh’s Digital Security Act. A total of 11 people were named in the police complaint and accused of spreading rumors and misinformation on Facebook about the coronavirus pandemic.
Rapid Action Battalion paramilitary forces arrested Ahmed at his home at about 3 a.m. on May 4, Lipa Akhtar, the journalist’s wife, told the Daily Star. Akhtar said the personnel identified themselves as Rapid Action Battalion 3 officers and took her husband; she said she did not know where he was taken, and the following day she received a call from the a police station in the Ramna neighborhood of Dhaka, saying that her husband was there.
Ahmed was among 11 people named in the police complaint filed by Rapid Action Battalion 3 Deputy Assistant Director Abu Bakkar Siddique at the Ramna Police Station, which included four other journalists, according to news reports.
Ahmed frequently writes political commentary on his personal Facebook page, which was mentioned in a police complaint reviewed by CPJ. On that page, where he has more than 2,600 followers, and on an additional pseudonymous page that Daily Star reported was his, “Michael Kumir Thakur,” Ahmed was critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He also contributed to the commentary website Straight Dialogue, according to a report by Human Rights Watch; CPJ was unable to view that website, which was offline as of late 2020.
Police allege that six of the individuals named in the complaint, including Ahmed, ran the Facebook page “I am Bangladeshi,” which police allege 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.
Ahmed 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.
Authorities allege that Ahmed 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.
Ahmed was denied bail by the lower court, Z. I. Khan Panna, the journalist’s lawyer, told CPJ in late 2020.
Panna said that no charges had been filed in the case as of late 2020. Ahmed is being held at Dhaka Central Jail, Keraniganj, Panna told CPJ.
In a phone interview, Rapid Action Battalion spokesperson Ashique Billah declined to comment on Ahmed’s case, saying it was under investigation.
On February 25, 2021, Ahmed collapsed while in the Kashimpur Jail and was pronounced dead on arrival at the Shaheed Tajuddin Ahmed Medical College Hospital, in the central city of Gazipur, as documented by CPJ. A probe of his death by a committee formed by the Home Ministry concluded in early March that Ahmed had died of “natural causes,” according to news reports.