Statement by Maria Arena, Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, on the situation of jailed journalist and cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore.
“I am seriously concerned at the wave of arrests targeting journalists in Bangladesh, including cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, on the grounds of the Digital Security Law of 2018, which can be used to unduly restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of media.
Ahmed Kabir Kishore was arrested in early May 2020 and charged with spreading rumours and misinformation following the publication of a series of press cartoons criticising the management of the COVID-19 pandemic in his country.
Being insulin-dependent, Ahmed Kabir Kishore’s health condition is a cause of great concern as the COVID-19 pandemic hits the country hard. Guaranteeing access to adequate care and medical treatment for Ahmed and to all those in need is a matter of urgency in the current context of the pandemic. His release would send a positive signal as to how the Bangladeshi Government is delivering on its commitments to international human rights treaties. Freedom of expression is the cornerstone upon which the very existence of a democratic society rests. Amending the Digital Security Law and adopting a law protecting journalists would be another move towards respecting human rights and the principle of the rule of law in Bangladesh.”
Ahmed Kishore had been working on a “Life in the Time of Corona” cartoon series that included caricatures of ruling party leaders and allegations of health sector corruption. He had shared some of his cartoons on his personal Facebook page. Ahmed Kishore, who is being held in pre-trial detention, faces life imprisonment for “spreading rumours and misinformation on Facebook about the coronavirus situation” and “insulting the image of the father of the nation, the national anthem or national flag.”
The authorities in Bangladesh have committed to reform the press freedom legislation so that it complies with the undertakings given to international bodies, including the UN Human Rights Council on 14 May 2018.
Against the background of COVID-19, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has addressed all governments around the globe with a call for the protection of all prisoners’ right to health and their right to life. This is also consistent with the UN Mandela principles for the treatment of prisoners adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015.
Ahmed Kishore was awarded the Robert Russell courage in cartooning award on 5 October this year, upon the suggestion of Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI).