Bangladesh: Death in detention of Mushtaq Ahmed and release on bail of Ahmed Kabir Kishore


The Observatory has been informed about the death in detention of writer and blogger Mr. Mushtaq Ahmed and the release on bail of cartoonist Mr. Ahmed Kabir Kishore. The two had been held in pre-trial detention for ten months for their criticism of the authorities’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On February 25, 2021, Mushtaq Ahmed was pronounced dead upon arrival at the Shaheed Tajuddin Ahmed Medical College Hospital, where he had been transferred from the Kashimpur Jail. At the time of publication of this urgent appeal, the circumstances surrounding his death remain unknown.

On March 3, 2021, the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh granted bail for six months to Ahmed Kabir Kishore, pending further investigation. At the time of publication of this urgent appeal, Ahmed Kabir Kishore has not yet been released.

The Observatory recalls that on May 4, 2020, Mushtaq Ahmed was abducted by officers of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) [1]from his residence in Dhaka. On May 6, 2020, Mr. Ahmed was taken to the Ramna Police Station, where he was arrested under Section 21 of the Digital Security Act for allegedly “spreading rumours and misinformation on Facebook about the coronavirus situation” and “undermining the image of the father of the nation, the national anthem or national flag”. On the same day, Mr. Ahmed Kabir Kishore was arrested by the RAB on the same charges.

Messrs. MushtaqAhmed and AhmedKabir Kishore were subsequently transferred to the Kashimpur Jail, in Gazipur District, where Mr. MushtaqAhmed was held in pre-trial detention until his death, and where Mr. AhmedKabir Kishore remains detained awaiting release. Before Mr. AhmedKabir Kishore’s bail was approved on March 3, 2021, six separate requests for bail were denied.

On February 4, 2021, after nine months of pre-trial detention, Messrs. MushtaqAhmed and Ahmed Kabir Kishore were charged under the Digital Security Act for posting on Facebook “propaganda, false or offensive information, and information that could destroy communal harmony and create unrest”.

On February 23, 2021, Messrs. MushtaqAhmed and Ahmed Kabir Kishore were brought before the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal for a bail hearing, which was denied. Mr. MushtaqAhmed appeared in good health, according to his lawyers. Mr. Ahmed Kabir Kishore’s lawyer alleged that his client had been denied adequate medical attention and that he had been subjected to acts of torture while in detention. Despite denying the bail request, the tribunal ordered the police to submit a report of further investigation into the case by March 10, 2021. However, the tribunal failed to order an inquiry into the above-mentioned allegations of torture.

The Observatory strongly condemns the death in detention of Mushtaq Ahmed and the alleged acts of torture against Ahmed Kabir Kishore and recalls that their detention came amid a crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists, and cartoonists who had been vocal in their criticism of alleged corruption in relation to the Bangladeshi government’s COVID-19 response, including journalists Abul Asad, Ruhul Amin Gazi, and Shafiqul Islam Kajol. Furthermore, the Observatory condemns the use of excessive force by the Bangladeshi authorities in response to the protests that took place in Dhaka on February 27 and 28, 2021, to denounce Mr. Mushtaq Ahmed’s death and demand the repeal of the Digital Security Act and an end to the arbitrary arrests of protesters.

The Observatory expresses its deep concern over the systematic use of the Digital Security Act to silence dissident voices and government critics and to restrict the right to freedom of opinion and expression in Bangladesh. Such trend was denounced by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on March 1, 2021.

The Observatory urges the authorities to carry out a transparent, impartial, immediate, and thorough investigation into the death of Mr. Mushtaq Ahmed and into the allegations of torture against Mr. Kabir Kishore, in order to identify all those responsible and sanction them as provided by the law. The Observatory further urges the authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Ahmed Kabir Kishore and all human rights defenders in Bangladesh, including by suspending the application of the Digital Security Act.

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