Protesters demand the overturn of the controversial digital security law under which Mushtaq Ahmed was arrested last year.
Around 300 students and activists have gathered in the capital of Bangladesh to denounce the death in prison of a writer and commentator arrested last year for violating a sweeping digital security law that critics say limits freedom of ‘expression.
Protesters marched through the Dhaka University campus and the streets of Dhaka on Monday to demand the release of seven student activists arrested in recent protests denouncing the death of writer Mushtaq Ahmed.
Ahmed, 53, was arrested in Dhaka in May last year for making comments on social media that criticized the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He has been denied bail at least six times.
Ahmed’s death on Thursday evening sparked protests in the streets and on social media, and prompted global human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to urge the government of Bangladesh to investigate thorough.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on the government to overturn the 2018 digital security law.
Protesters marched towards the country’s interior ministry on Monday, also demanding the overturn of the controversial digital security law under which Ahmed was arrested last year.
They broke a barricade by removing barbed wire on the way to the ministry, but were intercepted by a few hundred police outside the ministry building in downtown Dhaka.
“The state must take its responsibilities. He was killed, it was not a natural death. How is it that he was held for nine months in prison without any justice? said a protester, Mahfuza Akhter.
“We want justice,” she said.
At least 10 other people have been charged with sedition under the digital security law in the same case Ahmed faced, including political cartoonist Kabir Kishore, who was arrested in the case last year.
Kishore’s lawyers have said in previous court proceedings that he was “mercilessly tortured” in detention. CPJ has also demanded that Kishore be released from prison.
While a post-mortem report said Ahmed died of natural causes, protesters and his lawyers alleged that he was tortured, in poor health, and held in prison for nine months.
On Monday, protesters used a loudspeaker to chant slogans accusing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Ahmed’s death.
Police accused Ahmed of trying to tarnish the nation’s image and create confusion.
The digital security law includes a prison sentence of up to 14 years for any propaganda or campaign against the country’s war for independence, its founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the national anthem or flag.
He also says that a person can be jailed for up to 10 years for destroying community harmony or creating unrest or unrest.
The broad characterization of the charges led Amnesty International to conclude that the law “is marred by a lack of clear definitions, explanations and exceptions, including repressive sanctions unavailable for at least 14 offenses”.
Hasina says the law is necessary to maintain order. But opposition parties and editors warned that the scope of the law could be hijacked against criticism.
CPJ said the law was used “repeatedly and unfairly against journalists.”