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Death of Bangladeshi writer in jail sparks protests

February 26, 2021

A Bangladeshi writer’s death in jail sparked protests and an outcry from rights groups on Friday, months after his arrest under internet laws critics say are used to muzzle dissent.

Mushtaq Ahmed was among four people detained last May after he criticised the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 53-year-old, a crocodile farmer who became a well-known government critic, was charged with spreading rumours and conducting “anti-state activities” on Facebook.

Jail authorities told AFP he died on Thursday evening after passing out at a high-security jail outside of the capital Dhaka.

Ahmed had not been suffering from any major illness, said prison chief Mohammad Ghiasuddin.

“We saw him taking only gastric tablets,” he added.

Hundreds of people rallied in Dhaka on Friday to condemn Ahmed’s death, while his lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua demanded an independent investigation.

Ahmed’s prosecution under the country’s 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 by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2018, according to Amnesty.

Many of the country’s leading editors and senior journalists have been targeted for prosecution under the law, it added.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists demanded “a swift, transparent, and independent investigation” into Ahmed’s death.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.