Bangladeshi Cartoonist Released From Jail, Says He Was Severely Beaten

Ashif Entaz Rabi and Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Washington and Dhaka
Bangladeshi Cartoonist Released From Jail, Says He Was Severely Beaten Bangladeshi cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore was released on bail on Thursday after 10 months in prison, March 4, 2021.
[Art by Rebel Pepper/Special to BenarNews]

Bangladeshi cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore was severely beaten in custody, he told BenarNews from a hospital bed on Thursday, after being released on bail amid an international outcry over his detention and the death of a writer in prison last week.

The beatings began after his arrest, which took place on May 2 and not May 6 as stated by police at the time, Kishore told BenarNews in Washington in a telephone interview.

“They tortured me after the arrest. I was taken away on the 2nd of May 2020, but they documented it as a 6th of May arrest,” he said.

“I have huge pain in my left leg. They beat my legs a lot. My eardrum ruptured. I can’t see properly. I have toothaches, too,” Kishore said.

“I can’t distinguish right from left … They beat the soles of my feet very severely,” he said.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal on Thursday denied that Kishore had been beaten, and said a government probe into the sudden death of writer Mushtaq Ahmed on Feb. 25 found that he had no marks of torture on his body and had died of natural causes.

Both men were arrested under the Digital Security Act for publishing material critical of the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Neither Kishore nor Mushtaq was tortured. These are simply untrue allegations,” Asaduzzaman Khan told BenarNews on Thursday.

Kishore mourned his friend Ahmed’s death.

“I will never forget Mushtaq Bhai. I pray for him,” Kishore said.


Bangladeshi cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore is seen on a hospital bed after being released on bail, March 4, 2021. [Special to BenarNews]

Kishore’s diabetes ‘not treated at jail’

Ahmed died late last Thursday after suddenly falling ill at a high security prison in the central city of Gazipur. He had been refused bail six times since his arrest – the last time two days before his death.

Kishore was a little luckier.

After many international groups called for him to be freed, he was granted a six-month bail on Wednesday on his seventh attempt to get out of jail.

The court granted Kishore bail on health grounds and because two others accused in the same case were earlier granted bail, a deputy attorney-general said. The cartoonist is diabetic.

“Kishore was released Thursday from Kashimpur jail. He called me after coming out of jail,” Kishore’s lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua told BenarNews.

“After his release, he was admitted at a hospital for a health check-up. He was not treated at the jail, so his diabetes worsened. Pus is coming out of his ears,” the lawyer said.

Kishore ‘tortured between May 2 and May 6’

Kishore and Ahmed were arrested last year in early May by members of Bangladesh’s elite paramilitary force, Rapid Action Battalion, or RAB, according to Bangladeshi media reports.

The reports said that RAB arrested Kishore and Ahmed late on May 5, or in the early hours of May 6, and handed them over to the Ramna police station in Dhaka.

On May 6, a RAB unit called RAB 3 confirmed the handover to The Daily Star, and Ramna police station did the same.

But Kishore told BenarNews he was arrested on May 2.

On Feb. 23, when Kishore appeared in court, he told his lawyer and brother that two RAB personnel had severely beaten him after they picked him up last May, according to the United Nations Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet and The New York Times.

“Kishore told me that he had been tortured between May 2 and May 6,” Kishore’s brother Ahsan Kabir told the Times.

On March 3, Kishore’s lawyer Barua appealed to a Dhaka court to accept a complaint against RAB for the alleged beating, The Daily Star reported.

When the court asked Barua why he wanted to file an appeal almost 10 months after the alleged beating, the lawyer said he had learned about it only recently as he had not been able to meet Kishore in person before that because of the pandemic-related lockdown.

“Allegations of torture and ill-treatment by the Rapid Action Battalion have been a long-standing concern,” the U.N. Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in a statement on Monday, referring to Kishore’s claims.

Nur Khan, a former executive director of Bangladesh rights body Ain-O-Salish Kendra, described to BenarNews what he believes is RAB’s modus operandi.

“What police and RAB do is, as soon as they pick someone up, they beat them up mercilessly. They extract forceful confessions of their choice and then they show the person was arrested on a date later than when they were actually picked up,” Nur Khan said.

“This is because law enforcers have to produce them before the court within 24 hours after the arrest,” he said, explaining why RAB might give a false date for when someone was arrested.

‘Not an unnatural death’

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, meanwhile, said his ministry’s team investigated writer Ahmed’s death and submitted its findings on Wednesday.

 “I have seen the probe report. It concluded that Mushtaq Ahmed met a natural death. It was not an unnatural death. The inquest report said that there was no mark or sign of injury in any part of his body,” the minister said

Yet, he said that a post-mortem report was not ready, and that would tell exactly how Ahmed died.

“We are yet to get the post-mortem report. Upon receiving the post-mortem report, we can pinpoint the cause of his death. He [Ahmed] had been a chain smoker; he used to smoke 10 packets of cigarettes a day,” said the home minister.

Rights activist Nur Khan said that the home minister cannot come to any conclusions about Ahmed’s death without a post-mortem report.

“The home minister should not have said anything about the probable cause of Mushtaq Ahmed’s death without the post-mortem report. No one can come to conclusion on a death just looking at the inquest report,” he told BenarNews.

“It is unlikely that post-mortem report would be fair and impartial after the minister made these comments. Possibly, the post-mortem would now corroborate a natural death,” said Khan.

Jail authorities had said that Ahmed was treated at the prison hospital because he suddenly fell ill. As his condition deteriorated, he was moved to another hospital and died there, they said.

Lipa Akhter, Ahmed’s wife, said it was possible her husband died of a heart attack.

“Mushtaq’s brother is a doctor. He was present while the post-mortem was carried out. He told me Mushtaq may have died of a massive heart attack. His heart was enlarged,” Akhter told BenarNews.

Akhter said the post-mortem report would make the cause of her husband’s death clear.

What isn’t clear is whether the jail authorities took him to hospital on time when he fell ill, she said.

Akhter saw her husband in court on Feb. 23 when he was refused bail – two days before his death.

“If he had got bail then, he would have been with us. He would not have died in the jail,” she said.


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