Commentary by Mahfuz Anam: DSA - the law that jails now kills
Mushtaq Ahmed, the writer, the commentator, the socially conscious citizen, the articulate but moderate voice of dissent and a critical observer of current events is dead. The official cause will be known after autopsy. But the real cause we already know – our cruel system, in which anybody can be picked up, locked in prison, accused of a myriad of vague "crimes" and kept confined for months without trial, without bail, and without explaining the causes of confinement. We have a system where freedom of individuals are mere playthings in the hands of the people in power and there is no redress when such instances occur.
It was the inhuman use of the Digital Security Act (DSA), the unexplained imprisonment over nine months, the six times rejection of bail, the dark maze of the legal entanglements, endless drain of money for obvious and not so obvious reasons, and the unjustness of it all that made the life of writer and commentator Mushtaq Ahmed nothing more than a dark endless hole. The reality was so inexplicably cruel and beyond reason that being alive lost all meaning.
What were the crimes for which Mushtaq was in prison where he died? The controversial DSA allows maximum 105 days for completing investigation and submitting charges. But the investigators failed to comply with it and finally charged him eight months after his arrest.Can the freedom of an individual be left just at the whims of the police?
With due reverence and respect for the judiciary we ask, shouldn't the fact that a person has been in jail for nine months be a reasonable ground for granting bail? In refusing bails six times, were the fundamental rights of the accused, guaranteed by the constitution, ensured?
Then comes the question what did Mushtaq actually do that had him landed in prison in the first place? He made some Facebook posts and shared some other posts critical of the health ministry and some other government measures. Where is the crime here? The charges brought against him include running a campaign against the Liberation War, Father of the Nation, National Anthem, etc but the investigators provided no proof of any kind. After nine months, we still have no idea what he actually posted.
Even if we accept that for whatever reason the law enforcers felt the need to arrest him, how can we accept that he was incarcerated for nine months without showing any cause for his detention? Not only that, we have reasonable grounds to believe that he suffered physical and mental cruelty. Is this how we should treat a citizen who has no previous criminal record or record of any breach of law?
We may deny till we froth in the mouth but we are guilty of the most grievous violation of human rights against Mushtaq Ahmed. It is not enough for the home minister to say that he spoke against the government and the state without any proof of his "crime".
There are many other prisoners now languishing in jail with similar accusations. We demand that they be immediately released. We demand that the repressive DSA be immediately amended to prevent its abuse which has become so widespread now. It is the DSA that is maligning the image of Bangladesh, not those who are being punished under it.
The DSA was jailing people, now its misuse is killing people.