New Delhi: Bangladeshi writer Mushtaq Ahmed, who had been lodged in jail since May 2020 for allegedly spreading anti-government content on social media, died Thursday night inside a high-security prison near capital Dhaka.
The authorities at the Kashimpur High Security Prison in Gazipur, 25 km from Dhaka, said Ahmed suddenly fell ill Thursday night and was first taken to the jail hospital. He was later sent to Shaheed Tajuddin Ahmed Medical College Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
The 53-year-old writer had no reported ailment and the cause of his death is not clear.
Ahmed was jailed along with political cartoonist Kabir Kishore and two others for allegedly violating Bangladesh’s Digital Act by spread conspiracy theories and rumours against the government and their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Seven others were also booked on same charges but were not arrested.
While two persons were released on bail in the case, the bail applications of Mushtaq and Kishore were rejected six times, according to local media reports.
According to Kishore, he was also subjected to severe physical abuse while in police custody, and he sustained a serious leg injury and ear injuries that led to infections.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a non-profit organisation committed to promoting global press freedom, urged the Bangladeshi authorities to conduct a transparent and independent investigation into Ahmed’s death in custody Thursday.
It has also demanded the release of Kishore and called for an investigation into the alleged physical abuse he suffered in custody.
The case against Ahmed and Kishore
In May 2020, the Bangladesh Police had booked 11 people for allegedly spreading rumours and misinformation on Facebook about the coronavirus situation in the country.
They were also accused of “undermining the image” of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding leader of Bangladesh and father of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Ahmed had published an article criticising the shortage of personal protective equipment for doctors, while Kishore had posted a series of cartoons on a Facebook page, ‘I am Bangladeshi’. The cartoons titled ‘Life in the Time of Corona’ included critical satire of the ruling party and allegations of corruption in the government’s Covid-19 response.
The 11 were charged under sections 21, 25, 31, and 35 of the country’s Digital Security Act (DSA).
Section 21 criminalises “any propaganda or campaign” against the liberation war, “the father of the nation, the national anthem, or the national flag”, and carries a sentence of up to life in prison.
Section 25 criminalises publishing “offensive or fear inducing” information or any content “tarnishing the image of the nation,” carrying a sentence of up to 5 years in prison, while Section 31 criminalises publishing any content that disrupts “communal harmony” or “threatens to deteriorate law and order”, carrying a punishment of up to 10 years.
Ahmed used to actively write on social media on various issues. He also wrote a book titled ‘Kumir Chasher Diary (Diary of crocodile cultivation)’, which was published in November 2018, and was working on his next book. Ahmed was formerly a crocodile farm owner.