Ambassadors of 13 OECD country missions to Bangladesh expressed concern over writer Mushtaq Ahmed's death in custody under the Digital Security Act and called for a transparent and independent inquiry into the incident.
The news of Mushtaq's death sparked huge protests in the capital and elsewhere in the country.
The writer was arrested under the Digital Security Act in May last year for allegedly posting anti-government opinions on Facebook. He died at the Kashimpur jail in Gazipur on Thursday night.
Hundreds of people protested his death in custody in rallies in Dhaka. At least 35 people were injured as the activists of left-leaning organisations clashed with the police during a protest in the Dhaka University area on Friday evening.
The ambassadors of the OECD countries, including the USA and the UK, in a joint statement said, " Mr. Ahmed had been held in pre-trial detention since 5 May 2020 under the provisions of the Digital Security Act (DSA). We understand that he had been denied bail on several occasions and that concerns had been raised about his treatment while he was imprisoned.
"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 statement added, "We will continue to engage with the Government of Bangladesh on our Governments' 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."
The statement was signed by High Commissioner of Canada Benoit Préfontaine, Ambassador of Denmark Winnie Estrup Petersen, Ambassador of the EU Rensje Teerink, Ambassador of France Jean-Marin Schuh, Ambassador of Germany Peter Fahrenholtz, Ambassador of Italy Enrico Nunziata, Ambassador of the Netherlands Harry Verweij, Ambassador of Norway Espen Rikter-Svendsen, Ambassador of Spain Francisco de Asis Benitez Salas, Ambassador of Sweden Alexandra Berg von Linde, Ambassador of Switzerland Nathalie Chuard, High Commissioner of the United Kingdom Robert Chatterton Dickso, and Ambassador of the United States of America Earl R Miller.
Journalists and free speech activists have been demanding cancellation of some provisions of the Digital Security Act which they term major hurdles towards freedom of speech and the press.
Rights organisations and civil society have also been criticising the Act since its legislation, alleging that it empowered the authorities to thwart freedom of expression.
Najifa Jannat, a spokesperson of the protesters in Dhaka, said they brought out a torchlight procession from the Central Shaheed Minar and were marching towards Shahbagh via the TSC.
At one stage, police charged batons on the protesters and fired tear gas shells, forcing the protesters to take shelter in front of the central mosque of Dhaka University.
Twenty protesters and 15 policemen were injured in the clash. Later, police reportedly arrested seven protesters.
While talking to reporters, Sajjadur Rahman, deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (Ramna Zone), said police showed utmost patience in tackling the situation.
"The protesters were marching towards Shahbagh and we tried to disperse them. But they carried out an attack and threw brickbats at us. Around 14 policemen, including me, sustained injuries in the incident," he said.
According to Shahbagh Police Station sources, some four protesters were arrested from the spot, though the protesters claimed the number of arrestees to be seven.
Rights bodies, organisations demand transparent inquiry
US-based organisation the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on the Bangladeshi authorities to conduct a swift, transparent, and independent investigation into the death of writer and commentator Mushtaq Ahmed in custody.
It has also demanded unconditional release of jailed political cartoonist Kishore and investigation into claims that he was subjected to physical abuse in custody, the CPJ said in a statement from New York on Friday.
Earlier on Friday, leaders and activists of progressive student alliances blocked Shahbagh intersection of the capital for around one and a half hours over Mushtaq's death in police custody.
The organisations included Bangladesh Chhatra Union, Samajtrantik Chhatra Front, Biplobi Chhatra Moitri and Bangladesh Chhatra Federation.
At the event, Chhatra Union's Dhaka University Unit Acting President Mahir Shahrir Reza said, "This government does not have any concern for the mass people's lives. People never accept such kind of murder under police custody, and they must go for tougher movement demanding justice for this killing."
Earlier, the alliance also brought out a protest procession at around 12am on Friday from Dhaka University's TSC and went through Shahbagh, Bangla Motor and ended at Dhaka University's Raju Memorial Sculpture.
Later, on Friday afternoon eminent citizens participating in a demonstration at the Central Shaheed Minar premises alleged that the government is responsible for the death of the writer Mushtaq Ahmed.
Gonoshasthaya Kendra Founder and Trustee Dr Zafurllah Chowdhury, economist Anu Muhammad, writer Asif Nazrul, photojournalist Shahidul Alam, Assistant Professor of Economics Dr Rushad Faridi, Gana Sanghati Andolan Chief Coordinator Zonayed Saki, and some other eminent citizens took part in the demonstration.
At the programme, Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury termed Mushtaq's death "murder in the name of justice."
Zafrullah opined that the Digital Security Act could not curb crime.
He said "It is high time to bury this black law. It is time to bury the notorious DSA. It is not possible to silence someone's voice with this notorious law."
Akmal Hossain, president of the National Committee Against Fascism and Imperialism, and Hasibur Rahman, its general secretary, have issued a statement expressing deep anger and concern over the death of Mushtaq Ahmed in custody.
The statement said there was good reason to believe that Mushtaq Ahmed, who was detained for nine months under the Digital Security Act for expressing concern over the situation in the country, had his bail application rejected six times and could die due to lack of attention to his physical well-being.
Protesting against Mushtaq's death, the organisation demanded the immediate formation of an independent and multilateral inquiry committee comprising the National Human Rights Commission, trusted human rights organisations and activists and lawyers for the accused, including Mushtaq Ahmed, to reveal the cause of his death and identify those responsible.
Mushtaq buried in Azimpur Graveyard
Meanwhile, Mushtaq's body was handed over to his relatives after completing the autopsy and legal process at 12:30pm on Friday.
His relatives did not want to talk to the media about his death, but his colleagues have made various allegations.
He was buried in Azimpur Graveyard on Friday night after Namaj-E Janaza.
The doctor who completed the autopsy said he died before he was brought to the hospital. However, no injuries or other symptoms were found on his body, said Dr Safi Mohaimen, head of the Forensic Department of Shaheed Tajuddin Ahmed Medical College Hospital.
According to the prison authorities, Mushtaq fell sick inside the highly secured prison on Thursday 7:10pm. First, he was taken to the jail hospital. Later he was sent to Gazipur Shaheed Tajuddin Ahmed Medical College Hospital where the on-duty doctor declared him dead at 8:20pm.
Mushtaq's wife Lipa Akhter said she could not meet him even once in the last 10 months after his arrest.
"He was not brought to the court during the hearing on the bail application at the High Court. He was last brought to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate court on 23 February this year. But at that time I was in hospital," she added.
However, a couple of weeks ago, Lipa talked to Mushtaq Ahmed through mobile phone for a few minutes. At that time Mushtaq told Lipa that he was fine, but suffering from some problems in his stomach, which he never had.
"I know he was healthy until Thursday afternoon. But what happened then?" asked Lipa.
Mushtaq's lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua said, "I do not believe that Mustaq, who seemed okay on 23 February when he appeared before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate court, would suddenly die of a stroke just two days later."
Jyotirmoy Barua further said, "Cartoonist Kishore was severely hurt. His eardrum had been torn and he was limping. There was pus in the ears but he was not given any treatment. Even if Mushtaq's death happens to be a natural one, we want investigations to take place through a neutral committee. Cartoonist Kishore and Mustaq are scheduled to appear in the High Court next week for bail."
Meanwhile, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan has said Mushtaq Ahmed had breached law and order and hurt others' faith through his writings. That is why many people filed lawsuits against him.
He made the comment while talking to reporters after inaugurating the new office of the superintendent of Chattogram police on Friday.
"It will be investigated whether there is any negligence from the jail authorities in his death," he said.
The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore and writer Mushtaq Ahmed from Kakrail and Lalmatia on 5 May under the Digital Security Act for posting anti-government posts on Facebook.
On 5 May last year, Rab-3 Warrant Officer Abu Bakar Siddique filed a case with Ramna Police Station against 11 people, including cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore.
The case statement read that the accused published various posts conveying misinformation and rumours on the Facebook page called "I am Bangladeshi" to tarnish the image or reputation of the state or to spread confusion. These posts create confusion among the people and degrade the law and order situation in the country.
Although two people were released on bail in that case, the bail applications of Mushtaq and Kishore were rejected six times.