Protesters demand annulment of the controversial Digital Security Act under which Mushtaq Ahmed was arrested last year.
Dhaka, Bangladesh – Bangladesh’s High Court has granted bail to a jailed cartoonist arrested 10 months ago under a sweeping cybersecurity law that critics say limits free speech.
Cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, 42, was granted bail on Wednesday in the wake of days of widespread protests over the death of writer Mushtaq Ahmed in jail last Thursday.
Ahmed, 53, and Kishore were incarcerated in May last year in a case filed under the controversial Digital Security Act (DSA).
Ahmed’s death drew international concerns with Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, calling for a “prompt, transparent and independent” investigation into his death.
“Various UN human rights bodies have long raised concerns about the ill-defined, overly broad provisions of the Digital Security Act that have been used to punish criticism of the government,” she said.
Both Ahmed and Kishore had been denied bail six times in 10 months by lower courts when they filed bail appeals with the High Court on February 23. Ahmed died two days later.
On Wednesday, the High Court bench of Justice M Enayetur Rahim and Justice Md Mustafizur Rahman finally granted bail after hearing a petition filed by Kishore on the grounds of his health.
Kishore’s lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua told Al Jazeera he hopes his client will be released within the next two or three days.
Tortured in jail
Kishore’s brother Ahsan Kabir said Kishore had been tortured in the jail.
“[Kishore] sustained injuries to his ears, left leg and he cannot walk properly due to the torture,” Kabir said.
“He also has severe diabetes which got worsened in the last couple of months. The last time I talked with him, he was very weak and was mentally exhausted,” Kabir said, adding that they plan to admit Kishore immediately to hospital upon his release.
Kishore’s lawyer Barua said the officers responsible for torturing him “inhumanely in custody” should be brought to trial and punished.
The UN Committee Against Torture in its report in 2019 expressed concern at consistent reports alleging widespread and routine torture and ill-treatment by Bangladeshi law enforcement officials.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, welcomed the bail granted to Kishore. “Kishore should not have been jailed in the first place. The government should drop all charges against him and others accused under DSA merely for peacefully criticising state actions,” she said.
On the same day, protesters rallied in Dhaka over Ahmed’s death and for the abolishment of DSA.
About 500 people from civil society and left-leaning political groups marched towards Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s office. They were prevented from reaching the prime minister’s residence by the police.
The protesters gave the government an ultimatum to abolish the DSA by March 26 – Bangladesh’s Independence Day – or face intensified protests.
Bangladesh’s law minister, Anisul Haq, said his ministry has taken measures to change some of the provisions of the DSA.
“We are mulling changes so that no one could be arrested or charged under the law before a police investigation,” he told Al Jazeera.
But he ruled out abolishing the law, saying: “There is no chance of it.”