Mushtaq Ahmed was pronounced dead yesterday evening after being taken from Dhaka’s Kashimpur high security prison to Shaheed Tajuddin Medical College Hospital, 50 km to the north.
According to the prison authorities, he was initially moved to the prison infirmary after falling ill at around 7:30 pm, and was subsequently taken to the hospital, where he died at around 9:30 pm. But hospital officials told RSF he was “dead on arrival.”
His lawyer, Jyotirmoy Barua, told RSF that Ahmed seemed “in fine health” when he saw him two days before. As Ahmed suffered from no chronic illness, the circumstances of his death are very puzzling.
“We urge Bangladesh’s highest judicial authorities to appoint a team of independent investigators to shed all possible light on Mushtaq Ahmed’s death,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “His death in detention is all the more shocking because he had absolutely no place being in prison. In order to avoid another tragedy, we call for the immediate release of the cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, who was arrested at the same time as Mushtaq Ahmed.”
RSF was firm in its condemnation when Kishore and Ahmed were arrested in an operation on 5 May by the Rapid Action Battalion, an elite police unit, for “spreading rumours and misinformation on Facebook about the coronavirus situation” and for “anti-state activities” under article 21 of Bangladesh’s very Kafkaesque 2018 Digital Security Act.
RSF has learned that Kishore took advantage of a brief hearing on 23 February to pass a note to his lawyer, who passed it on to Kishore’s brother, Ahsan Kabir. The note said he had been subjected to violence during detention, and that he had a leg injury and an ear infection that had not been treated. The note included two cartoons representing two of his torturers. Kabir says he is very worried about his brother, above all because of his diabetes, which requires treatment with insulin.
Bangladesh is ranked 151st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.