The 4th of March
We have just learnt the happy news of the release from prison of Ahmed Kabir Kishore on March 4. The news was announced by the local press and confirmed by his brother. More information to follow.
The 3rd of March
Kishore bailed for six months; release from custody expected soon
CRNI together with Cartooning For Peace welcomes this morning’s decision of the High Court in Dhaka to grant bail to cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, ending his ten months of imprisonment. But questions remain about the death of his co-accused Mushtaq Ahmed, Kishore’s allegations of physical abuse and, more broadly, the future of the Digital Security Act (DSA) used to detain them and countless others in Bangladesh.
Following the grim news of last week it is with some relief we can report that Ahmed Kabir Kishore may, according to his lawyer, expect to be released from custody after processing of the court’s instructions and within the next two to three days.
The death of writer Mushtaq Ahmed resulted in four days of continued protest in Dhaka, some of it met with police brutality. Earlier this week the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet intervened, saying “There needs to be an overhaul of the Digital Security Act under which Ahmed was charged – and all those detained under this Act for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and opinion must be released.”
Last week the EU parliamentary sub-committee on human rights took evidence on Bangladesh and the unraveling situation there, mere hours before Mushtaq Ahmed’s death, prompting chair Maria Arena to say “I call for Ahmed Kabir Kishore’s immediate release.“
Later today we expect Karima Bennoune, special rapporteur for cultural rights, to highlight Kishore’s circumstances as she is given the floor at the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council. She has already said in her written submission on violations occurring in the midst of the pandemic that she is “deeply concerned about the jailing” citing it as an example of artists “targeted for work through which they critically assess official and public responses to the pandemic.”
Yesterday Law Minister Anihul Huq appeared to signal a willingness to co-operate on the matter of the DSA, saying: “I am discussing it with the UN Human Rights Council. We are comparing the law with (similar laws in) the rest of the world. We are working on how to develop a check and balance system to prevent any misuse or abuse, and how that can be incorporated within this law.”
Executive Director of CRNI Terry Anderson said: “Ahmed Kabir Kishore is not yet safe. I expect him to be released without further harm to his person, demand that his allegations of torture be impartially and independently investigated and that anyone implicated in the death of Mushtaq Ahmed is held accountable. I look forward to Kishore’s eventual acquittal and hope that the entire Digital Security Act soon becomes a thing of the past. The weight of the world’s human rights community is now fully against it.” A statement from the president of Cartooning for Peace, the editorial cartoonist KAK, endorses this view, adding: “Being a press cartoonist myself, I will never come to terms with the idea that a citizen expressing his or her opinion and sensibility in a few strokes on a piece of paper should have to face that level of repression.”
The 3rd of March
After six attempts, Kishore released on bail for 6 months
Cartooning for Peace is pleased to learn that Bangladeshi cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, who has been in jail for almost 10 months, has been released on bail.
His lawyer, Mr. Jyotirmoy Barua announced on Facebook that judges granted him bail on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Regarding articles from the local press, he has been granted bail on the ground “that he has been languishing in jail for a long period and investigation into the case against him is ongoing”. He is currently still behind bars but his lawyer said he hopes he will be released from jail within two or three days.
The release comes as his co-accused under the controversial Digital Security Act, Mushtaq Ahmed, died in prison last week and the cartoonist revealed he had been tortured in prison. Cartooning for Peace will continue to press for the complete withdrawal of the charges against him.
The 26th of February
Concerns over the health of Ahmed Kabir Kishore and the death of his co-accused, Mustaq Ahmed
Cartooning for Peace joins the call launched by many international organisations for this umpteenth appeal for the release of Ahmed Kabir Kishore, and expresses its great sadness over the death of the writer Mustaq Ahmed.
Mustaq Ahmed, who was arrested on the same day as Kishore, died on his arrival at the Shaheed Tajuddin Ahmed Medical College Hospital on 25 February 2021 after being transported from Kashimpur prison where he had been incarcerated since last May. Human rights Watch calls for an independent investigation into the writer’s death.
The lawyer for the two co-accused, Jyotirmoy Barua, said in an interview with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that he had no knowledge of the circumstances or causes of Ahmed’s death. In the same interview with CPJ, the lawyer said he saw him in good health on 23 February at a hearing of the court of first instance where Kishore was also appearing. During this hearing Ahmed reportedly told the court that he was concerned about Kishore’s degrading state of health, according to Rezaur Rahman Lenin, a human rights defender and consultant for the UN Resident Coordinator’s office, who was present on the day of the hearing and whose comments were reported by CPJ.
During the hearing, Kishore gave a note to his lawyer’s assistant Jyotirmoy Barua, who in turn gave it to Kishore’s family. According to his brother, Ahsan Kabir, who spoke to Cartoonist Rights Network International (CRNI), Kishore wrote in this note that he was physically abused in detention. He also gave sketches of the two police officers he holds responsible. The cartoonist’s family had previously suspicions of bad treatment against Kishore and his brother, who meet him recently, found him in poor health.
According to local press reports quoted by CPJ, Kishore has a serious injury to his left leg and ears, which have turned into an infection due to lack of medical care.
Kishore who is diabetic and with the covid-19 pandemic which is rampant in Bangladesh, has now been in prison for nearly 10 months and has been denied bail 6 times. While the report submitted by the RAB is considered incomplete and many other detainees have been released. On 25 February, the case of Kishore and the Digital Security Act and its consequences were discussed during an exchange of views at the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights chaired by Ms. Maria Arena. The latter had already called for the release of the cartoonist on 8 October 2020, followed by experts from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Accusations of bad treatment and reports concerning his health make us fear the worst. It is now urgent that the government hears the multiple calls for his release, before it is too late, as it was the case for Mr. Mustaq Ahmed.
Maria Arena’s Tweet on Kishore:
🆕 Statement by @EP_HumanRights Chair @Mariearenaps: “I am extremely worried about the news that cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore’s health is deteriorating. He has been detained in Bangladesh 🇧🇩 under the Digital Security Law since May last year.” 1/2
— DROI Committee Press (@EP_HumanRights) March 1, 2021
Irene Khan’s Tweet, UN Special Rapporteur Freedom of Opinion & Expression:
Mushtaq’s death in prison casts a shadow on Bangladesh‘s 50th anniversary. We fought for freedom, not to be gagged. #Bangladesh govt should repeal #DigitalSecurityAct and release immediately cartoonist Ahmed Kabir #Kishore. https://t.co/7oDdE6Tj6P
— Irene Khan (@Irenekhan) February 27, 2021
The 18th of December
Three freedom of expression orgs join UN experts’ call: release Ahmed Kabir Kishore
“More than seven months on from Ahmed Kabir Kishore’s arrest by the Rapid Action Battalion – nominally the police division deployed against the worst, most dangerous criminals in Bangladesh – time is up for both them and the government they serve. Beyond initial charges made, no case has been substantiated.
Even allowing for the delays that might have been the consequence of the pandemic, the full case against Kishore should have been articulated by now. In fact that is an obligation upon prosecutors made clear by Bangladesh’s prime minister in her comments of November 2nd.*
The lack of evidence was noted by the senior judge at Kishore’s last bail hearing on November 11th, the fifth such date in court to result in no progression and no new information concerning the case. It is now very apparent that Kishore is being held on baseless charges whatever the merits of the Digital Security Act cited at the time of his arrest, an ordinance that is regarded by all international observers as flawed, disproportionate and incompatible with human rights.
Meanwhile he and those visiting him in jail have been quite needlessly exposed to the risks associated with corona virus, and Kishore’s health has reportedly deteriorated of late in a way consistent with the symptoms found in insulin-dependent diabetes after months of inadequate treatment.
Enough is enough. Ahmed Kabir Kishore should be released immediately and all charges against him dismissed at the first opportunity.”
The statement from Cartooning For Peace, Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) follows the intervention dated December 16th 2020 from UN OHCHR experts Karima Bennoune – Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Irene Khan – Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression and Tlaleng Mofokeng – Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
And also tthe statement dated October 8th 2020 from Maria Arena, chair of the European Parliament’s subcommitee on human rights.
Download the statement: Kishore statement Dec 2020 FINAL
The 16th of December
Statement of the Office of the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner for the release of Ahmed Kishore
Cartooning for Peace welcomes the statement by the Office of the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner and the UN human rights experts, Ms. Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, calling for the immediate release of cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore due to his deteriorating health condition.
The statement reminds that “Criticism of government policy, including through political satire and cartoons, is permitted under the rights to freedom of expression and cultural rights, and should not be criminalised”.
The cartoonist, in fragile health condition, was arrested in May 2020 after the publication of a series of cartoons on Facebook, “Life in Time of Corona” and is awaiting trial.
As CRNI recalls, quoting the statement,“Bangladeshi authorities have released thousands of individuals due to the threat that COVID-19 poses in prisons, and there seems to be no legitimate reason to refuse Mr. Kishore’s request for bail,” they said. “We urge Bangladesh to release Mr. Kishore on humanitarian grounds to avoid a further deterioration of his health.”
The 8th of October
Statement by Maria Arena, Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, on the situation of jailed journalist and cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore.
“I am seriously concerned at the wave of arrests targeting journalists in Bangladesh, including cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, on the grounds of the Digital Security Law of 2018, which can be used to unduly restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of media. (…) Being insulin-dependent, Ahmed Kabir Kishore’s health condition is a cause of great concern as the COVID-19 pandemic hits the country hard. Guaranteeing access to adequate care and medical treatment for Ahmed and to all those in need is a matter of urgency in the current context of the pandemic. His release would send a positive signal as to how the Bangladeshi Government is delivering on its commitments to international human rights treaties.”
Cartooning for Peace strongly welcomes the publication of this statement and strongly hopes that this appeal will be heard and drive to a prompt release.
The cartoonist, a recent recipient of the Robert Russell Courage in Cartooning Award of the CRNI association, has been in prison for more than 5 months, and his calls for release on bail have not been heeded. He is accused of spreading rumors and misinformation following the publication of a series of cartoons criticizing the management of the COVID-19 pandemic in his country.
Frontline Defenders, in a statement released today, also expressed concern about the increasing repression of freedom of expression and the growing number of arrests of human rights defenders, including journalists, in Bangladesh under the Digital Security Act (DSA) of 2018. The organization also recalls that the UN High Commissioner has urged governments to work to reduce the number of people in prison as a result of the pandemic.
Cartooning for Peace joins forces with Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and its partners for the respect of press freedom in Bangladesh.
Cartooning for Peace is one of the four co-signatories of the open letter addressed by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Mrs. Sheikh Hasina on 3 June 2020.
The co-signatories call on her to guarantee press freedom in her country while a wave of arrests targeting many journalists, including cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, has occurred in the country on the grounds of the repressive Digital Security Law of 2018.
In particular, the partners call on the Prime Minister and the Government to:
As previously said, Ahmed Kabir Kishore was arrested on 6 May and is accused of spreading rumours and disinformation following the publication of a series of press cartoons criticising the management of the COVID-19 health crisis in the country.
Still in prison, when many of those arrested have already been released, his health condition is a cause for concern and Cartooning for Peace and Cartoonists Rights International are also calling for guarantees that sanitary and detention rules will be respected as the pandemic hits the country hard.
Alert, 14th of May
Like many organizations, Cartooning for Peace is concerned about the wave of arrests of many people (including journalists, artists, human rights defenders) and particularly cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore on the pretext of a breach of the Digital Security Act of 2018. Kishore, who is being held in pre-trial detention, faces life imprisonment for “spreading rumours and misinformation on Facebook about the coronavirus situation” and “insulting the image of the father of the nation, the national anthem or national flag”.
Cartooning for Peace joins RSF’s appeal (see here).