Bangladeshi Author, Detained Over Social Media Posts, Dies in Jail

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DHAKA, Bangladesh — A Bangladeshi author who was detained for practically a 12 months over social media posts that have been crucial of the nation’s authorities has died in jail, officers and relations mentioned on Friday, elevating alarms concerning the nation’s crackdown on dissent.

The author, Mushtaq Ahmed, was amongst 11 individuals charged early final 12 months over the unfold of social media content material, together with cartoons, that alleged mismanagement and corruption in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s response to the pandemic.

His case was introduced beneath Bangladesh’s Digital Safety Act, a 2018 legislation that offers the federal government wide-ranging powers to go looking, high quality and arrest anybody who violates its imprecise tenets, together with violating “the solidarity, monetary actions, safety, protection, spiritual values or public self-discipline of the nation.”

Critics say it has been used to stifle dissent. The Asian Human Rights Fee mentioned it had documented the arrest of 138 individuals final 12 months — journalists, college students and political activists — for criticizing Ms. Hasina’s authorities.

Mr. Ahmed was held within the high-security Kashimpur jail and was denied bail six occasions.

Rights organizations demanded an investigation into his loss of life and referred to as for the repeal of the Digital Safety Act, which additionally contains measures to guard in opposition to cybercrimes and assaults.

Mohammad Gias Uddin, the senior superintendent of the jail the place Mr. Ahmed was held, mentioned the author had misplaced consciousness on Thursday night and was taken to the jail hospital. Jail guards later took him to a bigger medical facility within the close by metropolis Gazipur, however was he was pronounced lifeless on arrival, Mr. Uddin mentioned.

Docs on the jail reported that Mr. Ahmed “by no means complained about his well being points,” Mr. Uddin mentioned of the author, who was 54. “He used to take drugs for gastric and headache.”

Nafeesur Rahman, a cousin of Mr. Ahmed’s who can be a doctor, mentioned he had been current through the post-mortem.

“I’ve not discovered any damage mark wherever on his physique,” Mr. Rahman mentioned, including that Mr. Ahmed’s coronary heart was discovered to be enlarged and that his blood strain had been very low when he misplaced consciousness.

The police grievance in opposition to Mr. Ahmed and the ten others accused them of spreading misinformation and rumors concerning the coronavirus and damaging the federal government’s picture by sowing confusion by means of social media. The costs have been nationalistic in tone, accusing them of “posting rumors in opposition to the Father of the Nation, the struggle of independence.”

In considered one of his final posts on Fb earlier than his pre-dawn arrest final Might by elite forces, Mr. Ahmed in contrast the nation’s well being minister to a cockroach. In one other, he wrote, “When a society laments the lack of an financial system greater than the lack of human life, it doesn’t want a virus, it’s already sick.”

Aliya Iftikhar, the senior Asia researcher on the Committee to Defend Journalists, referred to as his loss of life “a devastating and unconscionable loss.”

Mizanur Rahman, a legislation professor on the College of Dhaka and a former chairman of Bangladesh’s Nationwide Human Rights Fee, mentioned the Digital Safety Act was getting used to shrink free speech within the nation.

“All of us have to grasp that criticizing the federal government is just not a seditious offense in any respect,” Mr. Rahman mentioned. “Mushtaq Ahmed was not discovered responsible — he was in jail for 9 months solely primarily based on allegations of criticizing the federal government, and his loss of life in jail is completely unacceptable.”

Bangladesh, one of many world’s most densely populated nations, which additionally has poor well being infrastructure, was at all times going to be susceptible to the coronavirus. Considerations concerning the pandemic have been compounded by accusations of deep corruption within the more and more authoritarian authorities of a rustic that has been vulnerable to coups and political violence.

Additionally amongst these arrested in Mr. Ahmed’s case is the famend cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, who saved a Fb journal of political cartoons crucial of the federal government referred to as “Life within the Time of Corona.”

Mr. Kishore stays in jail regardless of an attraction by a panel of specialists from the United Nations Human Rights Council. The panel mentioned Mr. Kishore needs to be launched on humanitarian grounds, simply as the federal government has launched hundreds of others as a Covid-19 precaution, due to well being circumstances that make him susceptible to the coronavirus.

A press release by the Committee to Defend Journalists relating to Mr. Ahmed’s loss of life expressed concern that in Mr. Kishore’s newest courtroom listening to, on Tuesday, he had reported to relations that he was “subjected to extreme bodily abuse whereas in police custody, sustaining a critical leg damage and ear accidents which have led to infections on account of lack of enough medical care.”

“When my brother Kishore was produced earlier than the courtroom on February 23, I used to be current there,” Ahsan Kabir, his brother, mentioned in a phone interview. “Kishore instructed me that he had been tortured between Might 2 and Might 6.”

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