Writer’s death in jail sparks clashes in Dhaka

Published February 27, 2021
POLICE use tear gas shells on demonstrators protesting the writer’s death in prison. — AP
POLICE use tear gas shells on demonstrators protesting the writer’s death in prison. — AP

DHAKA: Police in Bangla­desh on Friday baton charged and fired tear gas at hundreds of students demonstrating in the capital after a prominent writer and government critic died in jail.

At least 10 people suffered minor injuries in the clashes with police, a witness said, amid growing demands for an independent investigation into the death of Mushtaq Ahmed.

A correspondent saw police lashing out with batons and firing tear gas rounds at students calling for “justice” near Dhaka University.

Ahmed was detained in May under a tough digital security act that opponents say undermines freedom of speech after he criticised the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 53-year-old, a crocodile farmer as well as a writer, was charged with spreading rumours and conducting “anti-state activities” on Facebook.

Jail authorities said Ahmed died on Thursday after passing out at a high-security jail outside of Dhaka.

He had not been suffering from a major illness, according to prison chief Mohammad Ghiasuddin.

Ahmed’s lawyer demanded an independent inquiry into the death.

The New York-based Commi­ttee to Protect Journalists has also called for “a swift, transparent, and independent investigation”.

Ahmed’s prosecution under the Digital Security Act was an example of the “worst form of repression”, said Saad Hammadi of Amnesty International.

“No one should have to die solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression,” he added.

Around 2,000 cases have been filed under the law since it was enacted in 2018, according to Amnesty.

Many leading editors and senior journalists have been targeted for prosecution under the law.Protesters blocked a busy intersection in Bangladeshs capital to protest the death.

Mushtaq Ahmed had been denied bail at least six times. It was not immediately clear how Ahmed died on Thursday.

Home Minister Asaduz­zaman Khan said Friday an investigation would follow.

Hundreds of protesters gathered near Dhaka Univer­sity’s campus while many others took to social media to voice their anger. They chanted slogans demanding the repeal of the law and shouted Justice, justice, we want justice! Human Rights Watch and Amnesty Inter­national urged Bangladesh to investigate the case.

The New York-based Commi­ttee to Protect Journalists also demanded the government cancel the security act and probe Ahmed’s death.

Police have said Ahmed attempted to tarnish the image of the nation or spread confusion.

The 2018 Digital Security Act includes a jail sentence of up to 14 years for any propaganda or campaign against the country’s independence war, its founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the national anthem or flag.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2021

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