Students on Friday clashed with police in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, as anger mounted at the death of a writer and government critic in a high-security jail.
At least 18 police and an unknown number of protesters were injured in the clashes, authorities and witnesses said, amid international demands for an independent investigation into the death of Mushtaq Ahmed.
An Agence France-Presse correspondent witnessed police using batons and firing tear gas at students who staged a torchlight march calling for “justice” near the University of Dhaka.
At least six students who allegedly attacked security forces with torches were detained, police said.
More protests were planned for yesterday.
Ahmed was arrested in May last year under the Digital Security Act (DSA) — that opponents say undermines freedom of speech — after he criticized the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 53-year-old, a crocodile farmer, as well as a writer known for his satirical style, was charged with spreading rumors and conducting “anti-state activities” on Facebook.
Jail authorities said Ahmed fell unconscious and died on Thursday at the Kashimpur High Security Prison outside of Dhaka. He had not been suffering from a major illness, prison head Mohammad Ghiasuddin said.
Cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore was detained at the same time and remains in custody. Both men had several bail requests turned down, the latest this week, and their treatment has faced mounting criticism.
Ahmed’s lawyer demanded an independent inquiry into the death. Thirteen ambassadors from countries including Canada, France, Germany, the UK and the US also expressed “grave concern.”
“We call on the government of Bangladesh to conduct a swift, transparent, and independent inquiry into the full circumstances of Mr Mushtaq Ahmed’s death,” the ambassadors said in a statement.
They said there would be follow-up approaches over “wider concerns about the provisions and implementation of the DSA, as well as questions about its compatibility with Bangladesh’s obligations under international human rights laws and standards.”
Rights groups have raised suspicions about the death.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also called for “a swift, transparent and independent investigation,” while PEN America said that Bangladesh authorities should also drop charges against Kishore.
“Not only should Ahmed have never been detained for his independent expression and critical views in the first place, his unjust death under the authorities’ watch immediately followed his complaints of torture at the hands of the security forces,” PEN America director of free expression at risk programs Karin Deutsch Karlekar said.
Ahmed’s prosecution under the act was an example of the “worst form of repression,” Amnesty International regional campaigner Saad Hammadi said.
“No one should have to die solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression,” he added.
Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, echoed that statement, saying: “Ahmed’s death has sent a chill through Bangladesh civil society and should force the government into ending this peremptory treatment of peaceful criticism.”
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