South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, condemns the detention of Bangladeshi Cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore and demands for his immediate release.
Kishore was arrested in May 2020 after his cartoons, “Life in the Time of Corona,” satirising the country’s response to Covid-19 including the corruption taking place in the containment measures, were posted on Facebook in March and April. He was charged under the 2018 Digital Security Act (DSA) for spreading false news and misinformation on the country’s Covid-19 response.
SAHR learns that in court hearings held virtually, Kishore’s bail applications have been denied continuously and no trial date has been set so far. We believe that restricting and intimidating political cartoonists is a broader effort to curtail press freedom, free speech and a move to violate the fundamental right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the country’s constitution.
Initially, eleven people including Kishor were charged with “spreading rumours and carrying out anti-government activities” under the Digital Security Act (DSA) on 6 May 2020. The Investigation Officer later dropped the names of eight others accused in the case due to lack of evidence but the police submitted a charge-sheet against cartoonist Kishore and two others, writer Mushtaq Ahmed and Rashtrochinta activist Didarul Islam Bhuiyan. However, Mushtaq died in Kashimpur High Security Jail in Gazipur yesterday (25 February) after complaining of chest pains.
UN special rapporteurs also in a statement issued on 16, December 2020 reiterated that criticism of Government policy, including political satire and cartoons, is permitted under the rights to freedom of expression and cultural rights and should not be criminalised. Further, the experts called on government authorities to drop the criminal charges against Kishore in light of Bangladesh’s obligations under international human rights law.
Therefore, we urge the Government of Bangladesh to immediately stop all attacks on those peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression. We have repeatedly expressed serious concerns over the draconian Digital Security Act and its use to silence critical voices and dissenters.
We call upon the government of Bangladesh to immediately release Ahmed Kabir Kishore and others and ensure the ability of citizens to exercise their constitutional rights.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights,
Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy
Dr. Roshmi Goswami