Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) has presented its annual "Robert Russell Courage in Cartooning Award" to Ahmed Kabir Kishore, who was arrested under the Digital Security Act in Bangladesh over five months ago.
In an article, the cartoonists' organisation called for his immediate release, total exoneration of all criminal charges against him and an independent investigation into his treatment as a detainee.
On May 5, a team of Rapid Action Battalion arrested cartoonist Kishore, allegedly for making anti-government posts on Facebook, from the capital Dhaka.
"Ahmed is a cartoonist and activist known to CRNI for over a decade. He campaigned bravely on behalf of the disappeared Sri Lankan cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda (2010) and jailed Bangladeshi cartoonist Arifur Rahman (2007) and identified as a CRNI "affiliate leader" in the country, although doing so inevitably made him a target for accusations of aligning with foreign interests. This speaks to his courage, as do his public demonstrations for the human rights not only of cartoonists but also Hijra people and in defense of health and consumer rights and the Bengali language," the article said.
It added, "Through April and into May of this year Ahmed posted to Facebook a series of cartoons he entitled "Life in the Time of Corona", satirising society's response to, and critical of the government's handling of public health during the pandemic."
The intent of the Robert Russell Courage in Cartooning Award is to recognise the plight of a cartoonist experiencing violations of human rights – and in the organisation's view, that is what has happened to Ahmed – as well as raise their profile in the hope that doing so will help bring about a favorable resolution.
"2020 has been an extraordinarily, exceptionally bad year. We could have presented the "Robert Russell" to European cartoonists whose censure was requested by Chinese diplomats, to a Jordanian cartoonist arrested for caricaturing the crown prince of the UAE, Brazilian cartoonists harassed by law enforcement, an Algerian cartoonist detained for "disrespecting" the military or a Palestinian cartoonist subjected to mass internet trolling and death threats over a cartoon to which Saudi Arabians took offense," the organisation stated.
"Ahmed Kabir Kishore's case is emblematic of the times in which we live; his freedom to express skepticism and dissent has been violated and that in itself would be sufficient to attract our attention, but for the last six months his life has been needlessly put at risk by detention in jail – universally recognised as an environment where corona virus is a higher risk – and despite his health condition – again, universally recognized as a contributing factor to illnesses such as Covid-19," the article said.