Two probe committees have been formed to investigate Mushtaq's death
Protests over writer Mushtaq Ahmed’s death in jail and demands for the repeal of the Digital Security Act (DSA) grew louder in Dhaka on Saturday.
Protesters also demanded the release of cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, who is still in jail and facing the same charges as Mushtaq.
The same day, the Home Ministry and Gazipur district administration formed separate inquiry committees to investigate Mushtaq’s death.
Meanwhile, police filed an attempted murder case against protesters who were arrested after a clash with law enforcement on Friday.
The arrested protesters were produced before the Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court with a remand prayer on Saturday. However, the court rejected the prayer and ordered police to interrogate the protesters at the jail gate for one day, only.
Activists of left-leaning student bodies brought out a procession from the Teacher-Student Centre (TSC) of Dhaka University around 12:30pm, paraded through the streets near the campus and held a brief rally at Shahbagh intersection.
Addressing the protesters, Progressive Students’ Alliance convener Al Kaderi Joy demanded that the draconian Digital Security Act be repealed and justice ensured over police action on the demonstrators on Friday.
After the rally, the protesters returned to the TSC and took position at the base of the Raju memorial sculpture, ending their demonstrations for the day around 1:20pm.
Another group of protesters under the banner, “People of Bangladesh”, brought out a symbolic coffin (khatiya) procession from the TSC that ended at Shahbagh.
In response to a question from reporters at a press conference, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said: “The death of anyone is not at all desirable… it is also not desirable to create anarchy over that death. So far, no incident like that of the November 3 killing of four national leaders in jail has taken place. What is there to do if someone dies after falling sick in jail?”
A 5-member probe body has been formed by the Home Ministry to investigate the reasons behind Mushtaq’s death in prison and any possibility of negligence on the part of prison officials. The probe report is due to be submitted in four days.
The Gazipur district administration also formed an inquiry committee to investigate the death as Mushtaq was being detained at Kashimpur High Security Jail in Gazipur.
District Deputy Commissioner SM Tarikul Islam said on Friday that the two-member committee would submit its report within two days.
Police file case against Friday’s protesters
Police filed a case against the protesters on as many as 10 charges, including attempted murder and obstruction of justice.
Shahbagh police station Sub-Inspector (SI) Mintu Miah filed the case under 10 sections of the Penal Code in the early hours of Saturday.
Seven of the protesters detained near the Shahbagh intersection on Friday evening were named as accused in the case, along with 100-150 unidentified others.
Mushtaq’s death in custody triggered demonstrations on Friday morning.
Scores of demonstrators brought out a vigil from the TSC area of Dhaka University campus around 7pm on Friday. Soon after they reached the National Museum, just opposite the police station, policemen baton-charged them and left around 20 protesters injured.
Police in the case statement claimed 15 law enforcement officials had also sustained injuries in the incident.
The plaintiff told this newspaper the bullet-proof vest of a policeman was burnt when agitators threw a torch at him, leading him to be hospitalized. Many other policemen were injured when brick chips were thrown at them.
Shields and helmets sustained damage amounting to Tk50,000, the SI added.
Court orders to interrogate protesters at jail gate
The investigating officer of the case produced the seven arrested protesters before the Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court of Morshed Al Mamun Bhuiyan and prayed for a seven-day remand.
However, the court rejected the remand prayer and ordered police to interrogate them at the jail gate for only one day, SI and General Recording Officer Nizam Uddin confirmed.
Mushtaq, the 53-year-old writer who published the book “Kumir Chaasher Diary” under the pen name Michael Kumir Thakur, was arrested by Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) from his Lalmatia home in the capital on May 2, 2020, allegedly for Facebook posts that were critical of the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On August 20, he was shifted to Kashimpur prison.
Mushtaq, who was taken ill at Gazipur’s Kashimpur High Security Prison on Thursday, was moved to the prison hospital. He was then transported to the Shaheed Tajuddin Ahmad Medical College and Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The death triggered a public outcry in the country, especially on social media platforms.
Calls for Mushtaq's release were widespread and sustained throughout his time in prison. Soon after his arrest, more than 300 dignitaries in Bangladesh issued a joint statement demanding his release, as well as the release of cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore.
Amnesty International reiterated the demand in a statement as recently as January, saying the duo (Kishore and Mushtaq) had been arrested "solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression."
Mushtaq's applications for bail were turned down on at least six occasions.