We are horrified to know that writer Mushtaq Ahmed, who had been locked up under the Digital Security Act for over nine months and was in Kashimpur High Security Jail in Gazipur, was declared dead at a hospital after he was brought there on February 25. Can anything be more tragic and reprehensible than an unexplained death of a writer after being imprisoned for expressing his views about the government's response to the pandemic on social media? Mushtaq's death is a stark reminder of how this draconian Act has been recklessly and unthinkingly applied on the basis of the most tenuous allegations. Such trivialising of human life is abominable and shames our country that was born out of democratic values.
His crime was that he had criticised the government's handling of the pandemic on social media. On May 6, 2020, he was arrested from his home for "spreading rumours and carrying out anti-government activities". The litany of charges he was accused of, along with three others, included spreading propaganda against the Liberation War, the Father of the Nation, and the national flag, tarnishing the image of the nation, creating hatred, destroying communal harmony, and threatening to deteriorate law and order.
Mushtaq was denied bail six times. It is heartbreaking to think that had he been given bail, he might have lived. This is what will be haunting his family members for the rest of their lives. We do not know what were the antecedents to Mushtaq's death—only an autopsy and a fair investigation will be able to determine that. We can only hope that such deaths will be prevented at all costs.
Mushtaq and Kishore (another accused in this case) were brought into a courtroom on February 23, before a judge, their first trip out of prison since May 6 when they were arrested. We hope the probe will establish what happened between then and February 25 to cause Mushtaq's death.
According to a relative who saw Kishore, the cartoonist, who is a diabetic, he had lost weight and had impaired hearing and reduced eyesight. The relative said he feared for Kishore's life. Two others are also accused in this case.
The death of Mushtaq and the incarceration of Kishore, Didarul Islam and Minhaj Mannan Emon and countless others who have been arrested and sent to jail under the Digital Security Act have left us bewildered and disillusioned. What is the ultimate form of this justice? How does a Facebook post or a cartoon constitute a crime? Why is this a non-bailable offense? Where are our rights as citizens of an independent, democratic country?
Such questions may never be answered. But as citizens of this country, we can demand that the provisions of a law that ultimately oppresses ordinary citizens and muzzles freedom of speech and expression, that may lead to disproportionate punishment such as long imprisonment terms and denial of bail, and may lead to severe deterioration of physical health of the accused and or even death, must be done away with immediately.