The police complaint against Mr. Ahmed and the 10 others accused them of spreading misinformation and rumors about the coronavirus and damaging the government’s image by sowing confusion through social media. The charges were nationalistic in tone, accusing them of “posting rumors against the Father of the Nation, the war of independence.”
In one of his last posts on Facebook before his pre-dawn arrest last May by elite forces, Mr. Ahmed compared the country’s health minister to a cockroach. In another, he wrote, “When a society laments the loss of an economy more than the loss of human life, it doesn’t need a virus, it’s already sick.”
Aliya Iftikhar, the senior Asia researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists, called his death “a devastating and unconscionable loss.”
Mizanur Rahman, a law professor at the University of Dhaka and a former chairman of Bangladesh’s National Human Rights Commission, said the Digital Security Act was being used to shrink free speech in the country.
“We all have to understand that criticizing the government is not a seditious offense at all,” Mr. Rahman said. “Mushtaq Ahmed was not found guilty — he was in jail for nine months only based on allegations of criticizing the government, and his death in jail is totally unacceptable.”
Bangladesh, one of the world’s most densely populated countries, which also has poor health infrastructure, was always going to be vulnerable to the coronavirus. Concerns about the pandemic were compounded by accusations of deep corruption in the increasingly authoritarian government of a country that has been prone to coups and political violence.
Also among those arrested in Mr. Ahmed’s case is the renowned cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, who kept a Facebook journal of political cartoons critical of the government called “Life in the Time of Corona.”