‘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 criminalized’
United Nations human rights experts have called upon the Bangladesh government to immediately release celebrated cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore due to his deteriorating health condition.
Kishore was arrested in May after his cartoons “Life in the Time of Corona”, satirizing the country’s response to Covid-19, were posted on Facebook in March and April 2020. He was charged under the 2018 Digital Security Act for spreading false news and misinformation on the country’s Covid-19 response.
“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 criminalized,” the experts said, according to a statement forwarded by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva on Wednesday.
The experts are 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.
They have repeatedly expressed serious concerns over the incompatibility of the Digital Security Act with international law and its use to silence critical voices.
In court hearings held virtually, Kishore’s bail applications have been denied five times, and no trial date has been set. An insulin-dependent diabetic, Kishore has heightened risk of Covid-19 complications.
“Around the world, Covid-19 outbreaks in prisons increase the danger of harm or death of individuals with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and chronic respiratory conditions,” the experts said.
“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 Kishore’s request for bail,” they said. “We urge Bangladesh to release Kishore on humanitarian grounds to avoid a further deterioration of his health.”
In addition to requesting the immediate release of Kishore, the experts called on the authorities to drop the criminal charges against him in light of Bangladesh’s obligations under international human rights law.
Earlier this year, the Cartoonists Rights Network International gave Kishore the Robert Russell Courage in Cartooning Award in recognition of his social engagement and defence of human rights.
“During the pandemic, it is more vital than ever to respect the rights of artists such as Ahmed Kabir Kishore to express dissenting views,” said the experts. “Not only are these rights internationally guaranteed, they play a vital role in promoting critical policy discussions.
“Silencing their voices harms their human rights — and also puts everyone at greater risk.”