Imprisoned Bangladeshi cartoonist Ahmed Kishore was granted bail today on health grounds after nearly a year in detention. Kishore, an award-winning cartoonist, was arrested in May 2020 under the Digital Securities Act, a restrictive law criminalizing online speech and creative expression critical of the government that has been increasingly used as a means to crack down on political dissent in the country. Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America, said the following:

“We are greatly relieved to hear that after several unsuccessful attempts, Ahmed Kishore’s bail application has finally been accepted and that he will be released from his detention at Kashimpur High Security Prison. We welcome this release as an important act to ensure his health and safety, and we call upon Bangladeshi authorities to drop all charges against him. Kishore should never have been detained in the first place, as he had merely exercised his fundamental right to freedom of expression by sharing cartoons critical of his government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We also call upon Bangladeshi authorities to immediately repeal or revise the country’s draconian Digital Security Act to come into conformity with international guarantees of freedom of expression. Kishore’s case represents the ways that this act has been used as a cudgel against peaceful expression, and it is clearly well past time for the law to be scrapped or changed.”

Kishore’s bail has been granted on health grounds, following reports that he endured torture and hardship at the hands of prison authorities. His bail application comes almost a week after the tragic death in custody of writer, journalist and co-defendant Mushtaq Ahmed.

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. ARC recently released A Safety Guide for Artists, which offers practical tools to help artists navigate risks and features an interview with Bangladeshi photojournalist and activist Shahidul Alam, who discusses his experience in jail and the state of artistic freedom in Bangladesh. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, please contact ARC.