Protests erupt over the death of Mushtaq Ahmed, arrested last year for violating strict digital security law.
There is widespread anger in Bangladesh over the death in prison of a dissident writer arrested last year under the Digital Security Act (DSA), which critics say stifles free speech.
Mushtaq Ahmed, 53, died Thursday in Kashimpur High Security Prison in Gazipur District, 32 km (20 miles) from the capital Dhaka.
The cause of death was not immediately clear. Home Secretary Asaduzzaman Khan on Friday ordered an investigation into the incident.
Ahmed was arrested on May 6 last year under the DSA for his comments on social media that allegedly criticized the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Police accused Ahmed of spreading rumors on social media, tarnishing the image of the country’s founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and “wounding the spirit of the 1971 liberation war”. He has been denied bail six times.
The DSA, adopted in 2018, provides for a prison sentence of up to 14 years for any propaganda or campaign against the country’s war of independence, its founding father, the anthem or the national flag.
He also says that a person could be jailed for up to 10 years for destroying community harmony or creating unrest or unrest.
“ Unjustified loss ”
Ahmed’s death sparked protests near Dhaka University on Friday, with protesters shouting “We want justice!” and demanding a repeal of the DSA.
“They have committed a grave injustice with my son,” Ahmed Abdur Razzaque’s father told Al Jazeera. “I am not in a position to say anything more. My only son is dead.
Ahmed, who wrote under the pen name Michael Kumir Thakur, was also famous as a crocodile farmer. His book, Crocodile Farmer’s Diary, has earned him great success.
Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch director for Asia, said Ahmed died in custody after being “held in pretrial detention for nine months … for the alleged ‘crime’ of publishing criticism of the government to the COVID-19 pandemic on Facebook ”.
“Mushtaq should never have been detained in the first place,” he said. “The government should explain why posting satire about the ruling Awami League on Facebook could amount to a death sentence.”
Dhaka-based journalist Saqib Sarkar said being locked up in “a dirty and sordid state and away from your family is also a form of torture”.
“In Ahmed’s case, it became very transparent after his death. His wife had a nervous breakdown. It’s torture, ”he told Al Jazeera.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has called on the government to quash the DSA and the release of the co-accused, political cartoonist Kabir Kishore, also arrested last year.
“The death of Mushtaq Ahmed in a Bangladeshi prison, where he should never have been held in the first place, is a devastating and unreasonable loss,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ senior researcher for Asia.
“The Bangladeshi government must allow an independent investigation into Mushtaq Ahmed’s death and act immediately to repeal the digital security law, which it has repeatedly and unfairly used against journalists.”
Rights group Amnesty International said Ahmed’s death in prison was “the result of the authority’s cruel practice of prolonging the detention of people”.
“We are witnessing the worst form of repression that a law such as the Digital Security Act can impose on a person. No one should have to die just for exercising their right to freedom of expression, ”said Saad Hammadi, Amnesty activist for South Asia.