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Bangladesh cartoonist bailed amid anger over online speech law


dpa/GNA – The Bangladeshi High Court has granted bail to a cartoonist amid protests against a controversial law governing political expression online, officials said on Wednesday.

Ahmed Kabir Kishore, who was arrested under the Digital Security Act nearly 10 months ago, was granted bail for six months on health grounds, defence lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua told reporters.

He is expected to be released in a couple of days if there are no other charges pending against him, the lawyer said.

Kishore was arrested along with writer Mushtaq Ahmed in May last year among a total of 11 people charged under the Digital Security Act for allegedly spreading rumours on social media about the Covid-19 pandemic.

They had criticized the government’s response to the pandemic on Facebook.

Ahmed, 53, died after he fell unconscious in prison on Thursday, prompting rights activists to start street protests.

Police on Wednesday stopped a procession of several hundred activists in central Dhaka as they tried to march towards the prime minister’s office to demand that the law be scrapped.

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“We will mobilize a bigger protest if the government fails to scrap the draconian law by March 26,” Junaid Saki, the chief of the left-leaning Ganasanghati Andolan movement told the crowd.

He also demanded an impartial probe into the writer’s death in jail.

Bangladesh passed the law in 2018 despite criticism from rights activists who said it would obstruct free speech.

The law allows punishments of up to 10 years of jail for destroying “communal harmony” or creating unrest using any digital media, and up to 14 years imprisonment for any propaganda against the country’s independence war, its founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the national anthem or flag.

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