"Will keep it safe, will show the way to the light" is written in front of every jail in Bangladesh but the death of dissident writer Mushtaq Ahmed, 53, on Thursday in the high-security Kashimpur Jail in Gazipur has raised the question of how safe the prisons are.
Citing data from various media outlets and non-government organisations, Human rights activists and law experts have said deaths in jail custody have increased alarmingly in the last two years.
According to Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) data, 133 prisoners died in jail custody in the last two years – 75 died in 2020, 58 died in 2019 and eight prisoners died in January 2021.
In 2020, out of 75 victims, 45 were under trial while 30 were convicted. Among 58 prisoners who died in jail custody in 2019, 36 were under trial and 22 were convicted.
Experts and activists demand separate inquiry of each death in jail custody.
ASK Secretary-General Nur Khan Liton told The Business Standard, "In a democratic country we have a constitution that ensures rights to people. We talk about democracy but accountability and transparency are not ensured in the administration. This is why this sort of incidents are mounting."
Harassing a writer just because of criticising the government and the death of a free-thinking writer like Mushtaq Ahmed in jail custody is not desirable at all, he added.
Colonel Md Abrar Hossain, Additional Inspector General (Prison) told TBS, "As we don't investigate any case we don't need to torture prisoners. Investigators might have tortured the accused of getting information although we are not sure about it."
"When prisoners are sick the jail authorities refer them to the hospital immediately. We have observed most of the prisoners who died in jails were drug-addicted and suffered from various diseases," he added.
He also said the number of prisoners is much higher than the capacity in jails. There are more than 90,000 prisoners in jail while the capacity is only 45,000.