A political journalist and cartoonist in Bangladesh who was jailed last year over his coverage of the coronavirus says he is being physically abused while in police custody, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported.
Kabir Kishore was imprisoned in May of 2020 for cartoons he made about life during the pandemic that were shared on social media. The series of cartoons, called “Life in the Time of Corona,” criticized the Bangladeshi government’s COVID-19 response.
The cartoons, which were shared on Facebook, featured caricatures of government leaders and allegations of corruption in the healthcare system.
There were 274 journalists behind bars in 2020, according to the One Free Press Coalition. Of those, 79% published their reporting online.
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Military forces arrested Kishore last year and collected phones, external hard drives, a computer, and CDs from his home. Officials said they found evidence he was “spreading rumors to create confusions by drawing cartoons of different ruling-party leaders,” CPJ reported.
Kishore was among ten journalists accused of “spreading rumors and misinformation on Facebook about the coronavirus situation,” a Dhaka Metropolitan Police official told AFP.
He was charged in February under a law that prohibits creating propaganda or false information that could hurt the country’s image or cause unrest. If convicted under the law, he could face up to 10 years in prison or an $118,000 fine, CPJ reported. He has also been denied bail multiple times.
During a hearing later that month, Kishore passed a note to his brother that said police had abused him. He said he had severe injuries to his leg and an ear that became infected due to a lack of medical care.
Out of 180 countries, Bangladesh was ranked 151 on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, among the lowest of nations in South Asia.
Journalists elsewhere have been targeted for their coverage of coronavirus.
The Los Angeles Times reported journalists in India are being prosecuted for critical coverage of the country’s pandemic response. Meanwhile, multiple journalists in China were arrested or disappeared after sharing stories about life in Wuhan after the outbreak.
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