Anger in Bangladesh over dissident author’s demise in jail

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Protests erupt over demise of Mushtaq Ahmed, arrested final yr on fees of violating the stringent Digital Security Act.

There is widespread anger in Bangladesh over the demise in jail of a dissident author arrested final yr underneath the Digital Security Act (DSA), which critics say stifles freedom of speech.

Mushtaq Ahmed, 53, died on Thursday within the high-security Kashimpur jail in Gazipur district, 32km (20 miles) from the capital Dhaka.

The reason for demise was not instantly clear. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan on Friday ordered an investigation into the incident.

1614339569252 1Protesters in Dhaka, indignant over Ahmed’s demise, display towards the Digital Security Act [Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera]

Ahmed was arrested on May 6 final yr underneath the DSA for his social media feedback allegedly criticising the federal government’s dealing with of the coronavirus pandemic.

Police charged Ahmed with spreading rumours on social media, tarnishing the picture of the nation’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and “hurting the spirit of the 1971 liberation war”. He was denied bail six occasions.

The DSA, handed in 2018, features a jail sentence of as much as 14 years for any propaganda or marketing campaign towards the nation’s independence warfare, its founding father, the nationwide anthem or flag.

It additionally says an individual could possibly be jailed for as much as 10 years for destroying communal concord or creating unrest or dysfunction.

1614339569227Prayers held on a road in Dhaka over Ahmed’s demise [Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera]

‘Unconscionable loss’

Ahmed’s demise triggered protests near Dhaka University on Friday, with the demonstrators shouting “We want justice!” and demanding a repeal of the DSA.

“They have committed grave injustice with my son,” Ahmed’s father Abdur Razzaque advised Al Jazeera. “I am not in a position to say anything further. My only son is dead.”

Ahmed, who used to jot down underneath the pen title, Michael Kumir Thakur, was additionally well-known as a crocodile farmer. His e-book, Crocodile Farmer’s Diary, earned him widespread acclaim.

Brad Adams, Asia director of the Human Rights Watch, mentioned Ahmed died in custody after “being held in pre-trial detention for nine months … for the alleged ‘crime’ of posting criticism of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Facebook”.

“Mushtaq should never have been in detention in the first place,” he mentioned. “The government should account for why posting satire about the ruling Awami League on Facebook could amount to the equivalent of a death sentence.”

Dhaka-based journalist Saqib Sarkar mentioned being locked up in a “dirty, squalid condition and away from family is also a form of torture”.

“In Ahmed’s case, this has become very transparent after his death. His wife had a mental breakdown. This is torture,” he advised Al Jazeera.

New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists demanded the federal government cancel the DSA and the discharge of Ahmed’s co-accused, political cartoonist Kabir Kishore, who was additionally arrested final yr.

“Mushtaq Ahmed’s death in a Bangladeshi prison, where he never should have been detained in the first place, is a devastating and unconscionable loss,” mentioned Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher.

“The Bangladeshi government must allow an independent inquiry into how Mushtaq Ahmed died and move immediately to repeal the Digital Security Act, which it has used repeatedly and unjustly against journalists.”

Rights group Amnesty International mentioned Ahmed’s demise in jail is the “effect of the authority’s cruel practice of prolonging detention of people”.

“We are witnessing the worst form of repression that a law like the Digital Security Act can bring on a person. No one should have to die solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression,” mentioned Saad Hammadi, Amnesty’s South Asia campaigner.

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