Kishore, released from prison after securing bail in the Digital Security Act case, complained of torture in custody
A Dhaka court on Sunday accepted charges against cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, along with six others, in a case filed under the Digital Security Act allegedly for spreading rumours and carrying out anti-government activities on social media.
Kishore had languished in prison for more than 10 months before getting out on bail on March 4 this year following widespread protests and international outcry.
Kishore the cartoonist
Born in 1979, Kishore is identified as a Cartoonist Rights Network International (CRNI) "affiliate leader" in Bangladesh for his decades-long work as a cartoonist and activist.
He had campaigned bravely on behalf of the disappeared Sri Lankan cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda (2010) and jailed Bangladeshi cartoonist Arifur Rahman (2007).
In his career, Kishore has advocated for human rights, third gender people, health and consumer rights, and the Bengali language.
During March and April in 2020, Kishore drew several cartoons criticizing and satirizing the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, posting it on Facebook with the title “Life in the Time of Corona”.
The same year, he also drew a satirical cartoon mocking the chairman of a private bank, a powerful businessman who reportedly has close ties to the country’s government.
Case and jailing
RAB personnel arrested the cartoonist and writer Mushtaq Ahmed from their homes in Dhaka’s Kakrail and Lalmatia areas on May 5, 2020.
A case was filed under the DSA against the duo and nine others with Ramna police station on charges of spreading anti-state falsehood to tarnish the image of Bangladesh and create confusion from a Facebook page.
Later, a court sent Kishore and Mushtaq to jail under the case. Calls for their release were widespread and sustained throughout their time in prison.
Call for release
Soon after the arrests, more than 300 dignitaries in Bangladesh issued a joint statement demanding the release of both Kishore and Mushtaq.
Amnesty International reiterated the demand in a statement in January, saying Kishore and Mushtaq had been arrested "solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression”.
UN human rights experts also issued a statement calling on the Bangladesh government to release Kishore due to his deteriorating health condition.
Eventual release from prison
The High Court granted him bail for six months on March 3 and he walked out of Gazipur's Kashimpur High Security Jail the following day, 10 months after his arrest in the Digital Security Act case.
The decision came following widespread protests on the streets and social media when writer Mushtaq Ahmed died in jail on February 25. He died two days after Dhaka's Cyber Tribunal rejected his bail petition for the sixth time.
He used to write under the pen name Michael Kumir Thakur. His book "Kumir Chasher Diary" was published in November 2018, and he was working on another book.
Torture in custody
After walking out of jail, Kishore told the media that he was not in a condition to go home and needed to go to a hospital first.
He also said he was tortured following his arrest. He stated that he was feeling pain in his left leg, which made it difficult for him to walk.
“I was struck on my ear. Pus [fluid discharge] still comes out of it, and I am having hearing problems as a result,” he said.
He also complained that he was denied treatment in jail, adding that he had diabetes and his blood sugar level had spiked due to not receiving medical attention.
Kishore added that he had become weak and devastated — both mentally and physically.
Later on March 10, he filed a complaint with a Dhaka court under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act against unidentified perpetrators.
Appearing before the court, Kishore recounted his experiences of torture as well as an incident where 17-18 men in plain clothes had ransacked his home on the evening of May 2, 2020, three days before he was shown as arrested under the Digital Security Act.
In his statement, Kishore said a group of men had seized his cell phone and computer before taking him to an unknown location on the day of the ransacking. The perpetrators tortured him in various ways and kept him imprisoned until handing him over to RAB custody on May 5 last year.
Court accepts charges against Kishore
Judge Md Ash-Shams Joglul Hossain of the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal on Sunday accepted charges against Kishore and six others in the Digital Security Act case, fixing September 30 for the indictment hearing in the case.
The six other accused are "Rastrachinta" Coordinator Didarul Islam Bhuiyan, Swedish-Bangladeshi journalist and Netra News Editor-in-Chief Tasneem Khalil, BLE Securities Managing Director and former director of Dhaka Stock Exchange Minhaj Mannan Emon, expatriate businessman Shamiul Islam Khan Sami alias Zulkarnain Shayer Khan, Ashik Imran, and Wahidun Nabi Swapan alias Swapan Wahid.
For nonappearance, the court also issued arrest warrants against Tasneem, Sami, Ashik and Swapan.
The investigating agency Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crimes (CTTC) dropped the names of four accused from the charge sheet. They are writer Mushtak Ahmed, US-based journalist Sahed Alam, blogger Asif Mohiuddin, and Philip Shumakher.