South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, is deeply concerned of the death of writer Mushtaq Ahmed while in detention and demands the Government of Bangladesh to immediately conduct an independent, impartial and transparent investigation over the circumstances of his death while in custody.
Mushtaq Ahmed who was arrested on 6 May 2020 under the Digital Security Act (DSA) was denied bail six times and died on 25 February 2021 in the high-security Kashimpur jail in Gazipur district after complaining of chest pains. Mushtaq was arrested for publishing an article criticising the shortage of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and had shared the cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore’s cartoons about corruption and the government’s response to the pandemic. Police charged Mushtaq Ahmed with spreading rumours on social media, tarnishing the image of the country’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and “hurting the spirit of the 1971 liberation war”. Under the draconian DSA these charges amount to “propaganda, false or offensive information, and information that could destroy communal harmony and create unrest.”
The circumstances of Mushtaq’s death while in custody remain uncertain and SAHR is concerned on the allegations of torture that have been raised. Mushtaq was arrested with others including Kishore and on 3rd March, Kishore was granted 6 months bail by the high court. However, on 23 February, in court, Kishore informed his lawyers that he was being physically tortured in detention and that he was suffering from a leg and an inner ear infection. Kishore’s statement on torture raises serious concerns over the well-being of the others in detention as well as the circumstances of Mushtaq’s death. Therefore, SAHR calls upon the Government of Bangladesh to immediately conduct an inquiry into the death of Mushtaq Ahmed.
SAHR also believes that the freedom of expression, a crucial element of a democratic society, is a right without which other rights are difficult to acquire and defend. We strongly condemn the manner in which journalists, writers, academics, and human rights defenders face severe repression and are vilified under the DSA and request the Government of Bangladesh to immediately release the others who were detained for merely exercising their freedom of speech and to provide necessary facilities for their safety and wellbeing in detention until released.
We further reiterate our concerns on the DSA which contravenes the fundamental rights of the citizenship enshrined in the constitution as well as the international human rights obligations to which the country is a state party and also call upon the Government to immediately repeal this draconian law and protect the fundamental rights of its citizens.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights,
Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy
Dr. Roshmi Goswami