A Dhaka court has ordered an inquiry into allegations of torture made by the cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, following his release on bail after ten months in prison. CRNI demands an independent and impartial investigation amid sustained levels of criticism directed at Bangladesh’s government.
UPDATE – MARCH 19 2021: KISHORE REPORTED TO HOSPITAL FOR A MEDICAL EXAMINATION YESTERDAY AS INSTRUCTED BY THE COURT, BUT FURTHER TESTS ARE REQUIRED THIS WEEKEND. ACCORDINGLY, AN APPLICATION HAS BEEN MADE TO EXTEND THE DEADLINE OF THE OFFICIAL INQUIRY.
As Ahmed Kabir Kishore recovers from surgery to help heal an infected ear injury, a wound that has permanently damaged his hearing, we welcome the news that there is to be an investigation into his allegations of torture while detained by police last May. However given the results of a similar procedure after the untimely death of Kishore’s co-accused, the writer Mushtaq Ahmed, we are not optimistic about the prospects of justice for the victim. There must be no cover-up, no bland obfuscation.
In a remarkable, harrowing account given to the press two weeks ago, Ahmed Kabir Kishore described torture, attempts to plant evidence at his home and a period of detention that predates the officially logged time of his arrest and entry into police custody.
“They hit me on the leg with a thick stick with a steel knob on the tip. There were four sticks displayed in the front to hit me with […] A person got up and slammed both sides of my head with his palms. They hit me at the back of the head […] They asked me for the passwords of my email and social media accounts. But by then I was not hearing anything in my right ear, which was bleeding.”Ahmed Kabir Kishore describes physical injuries sustained during police interrogation.
While in court in February, prior to the death of Ahmed and successful bail of Kishore the pair attempted to draw attention to their treatment; the writer spoke out on behalf of his ailing companion and the cartoonist manged to pass a note to his legal representative. Within was a description of his alleged torture. Those responsible must be found, given an opportunity to account for themselves and, if found to have broken the law, receive the due penalties.
Even if one agrees that the Digital Security Act 2018 provides proportionate powers to combat truly criminal activity – and few do – it must be accepted that those arrested under the act are entitled to due process and can expect to receive a fair hearing without suffering injury or death while in the custody of the state. Yet Ahmed Kabir Kishore barely survived the past ten months and he has yet to learn when his actual trial will begin. Tragically, Mushatq Ahmed didn’t make it.
We note that criticism of Bangladesh and the government led by prime minister Sheikh Hasina has continued unabated since the death of Mushtaq Ahmed. Today, Human Rights Watch have been scathing in their call for clarification from Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Patricia Scotland after she praised the Bangladeshi leader’s pandemic response, saying “It is hard to understand what criteria the Commonwealth used to conclude that Sheikh Hasina should be lauded for her leadership and singled out as an inspiring figure. Baroness Scotland should clarify her statements and stand with victims against abuses in Bangladesh, including those carried out as part of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
We quite agree. The only way to recover from the reputational damage of the last several weeks is for Bangladesh to respond swiftly, transparently and fairly to the grave transgressions that have been committed under the Digital Security Act.