CRNI together with Cartooning For Peace (making the same statement in French) welcomes this morning’s decision of the High Court in Dhaka to grant bail to cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, ending his ten months of imprisonment. But questions remain about the death of his co-accused Mushtaq Ahmed, Kishore’s allegations of physical abuse and, more broadly, the future of the Digital Security Act (DSA) used to detain them and countless others in Bangladesh.
Following the grim news of last week it is with some relief we can report that Ahmed Kabir Kishore may, according to his lawyer, expect to be released from custody after processing of the court’s instructions and within the next two to three days.
The death of writer Mushtaq Ahmed resulted in four days of continued protest in Dhaka, some of it met with police brutality. Earlier this week the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet intervened, saying “There needs to be an overhaul of the Digital Security Act under which Ahmed was charged – and all those detained under this Act for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and opinion must be released.”
Last week the EU parliamentary sub-committee on human rights took evidence on Bangladesh and the unraveling situation there, mere hours before Mushtaq Ahmed’s death, prompting chair Maria Arena to say “I call for Ahmed Kabir Kishore’s immediate release.”
Today we expect Karima Bennoune, special rapporteur for cultural rights, to highlight Kishore’s circumstances as she is given the floor at the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council. She has already said in her written submission on violations occurring in the midst of the pandemic that she is “deeply concerned about the jailing” citing it as an example of artists “targeted for work through which they critically assess official and public responses to the pandemic.”
Yesterday Law Minister Anihul Huq appeared to signal a willingness to co-operate on the matter of the DSA, saying: “I am discussing it with the UN Human Rights Council. We are comparing the law with (similar laws in) the rest of the world. We are working on how to develop a check and balance system to prevent any misuse or abuse, and how that can be incorporated within this law.”
Executive Director of CRNI Terry Anderson said: “Ahmed Kabir Kishore is not yet safe. I expect him to be released without further harm to his person, demand that his allegations of torture be impartially and independently investigated and that anyone implicated in the death of Mushtaq Ahmed is held accountable. I look forward to Kishore’s eventual acquittal and hope that the entire Digital Security Act soon becomes a thing of the past. The weight of the world’s human rights community is now fully against it.”
A statement from the president of Cartooning for Peace, the editorial cartoonist KAK, endorses this view, adding: “Being a press cartoonist myself, I will never come to terms with the idea that a citizen expressing his or her opinion and sensibility in a few strokes on a piece of paper should have to face that level of repression.”