New protests in Bangladesh as UN calls for reform of digital security law

Hundreds of activists in Bangladesh on Monday staged demonstrations for the fourth day to protest the death of a well-known anti-government writer in prison, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on Dhaka to review a digital security law used against opponents.

The students tried to march to the ministries compound in the capital to demand an investigation into what they considered to be the "murder" of writer Mushtaq Ahmed in a high-security prison, as well as the repeal of the national security law.

But riot police stopped them 100 meters from the government compound, which houses all the key ministries.

Ahmed, 53, collapsed and died Thursday night, 10 months after he was arrested under the "digital security" law, which experts say is aimed at silencing dissent in the country of 168 million people.

The protesters also demanded the release of more than a dozen activists arrested during protests with police since his death.

Student leader Massoud Rana said there could be a "revolution" against the government.

Other groups plan to stage protests during the day over Ahmed's death and demand the release of cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, who was arrested along with the writer.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michel Bachelet on Monday urged authorities in Bangladesh to open a transparent investigation into Ahmed's death.

"There is a need to reform the digital security law under which Ahmed is accused and all those detained under this law must be released for exercising their rights of opinion and expression," she said in a statement.

The authorities arrested Ahmed after he was accused of spreading rumours and carrying out "anti-state activities" and criticizing the government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bachelet expressed "deep concern" over allegations that Kishore had been "tortured or ill-treated".

"The government must ensure that the investigation into Ahmed's death will be swift, transparent and independent, and that any allegations of ill-treatment of other detainees will be investigated immediately," Bachelet said.

Kishore's representatives said the country's Supreme Court had postponed until Wednesday its decision on his release on bail.

 

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