The Prothom Alo journalist was arrested under the Official Secrets Act on Monday
Journalists and civil society members on Tuesday condemned and protested the confinement of journalist Rozina Islam at the Health Ministry and her subsequent arrest.
They said Rozina Islam had exposed so many irregularities and anomalies of officials at the Health Ministry that she became a target of their wrath.
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) executive director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said in a statement on Tuesday that the Health Ministry’s lack of coordination and professionalism in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis had been exposed by journalist Islam.
“I assume yesterday’s [Monday] incident was an act of vengeance as they were exposed by this journalist,” he said.
Rozina Islam, a senior correspondent of the Bangla newspaper Prothom Alo, was arrested in a case filed by the Health Ministry under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, hours after her confinement at the secretariat.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman added that Islam’s professional identity was not considered when the police arrested her under this act.
Police took her into custody from the secretariat around five hours into her confinement in a room, accusing her of taking photos of important official documents at the office of Md Saiful Islam Bhuiyan, personal secretary (PS) to the secretary of the Health Services Division.
According to the complaint, an on-duty police member saw Islam in the office of the secretary’s PS around 2:55pm and later other officials, including Additional Secretary Kazi Zebunnesa Begum and the secretary’s PS Saiful came and questioned Islam about her intention behind being there.
At one point, the additional secretary frisked her body and found some files, and saw photos of documents on her mobile phone, according to the complaint filed by the ministry.
Later, Shahbagh police led by an additional police commissioner posted at the secretariat took her in their custody.
Prothom Alo journalists formed a human chain in front of their office protesting Rozina’s arrest.
Anisul Haque, editor of Kishor Alo, said Prothom Alo journalists wanted the false case against Rozina Islam to be withdrawn and demanded an investigation into the matter of Islam’s confinement at the Health Ministry.
Dhaka Reporters’ Unity will organise a human chain on Wednesday to protest the torture on and arrest of Islam at the DRU premises. Later, DRU will submit a memorandum to Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan demanding Rozina’s release.
Journalists in Chittaagong, Rangamati, Satkhira, Pabna, Khulna, Rangpur, Tangail, Sylhet, Narayanganj and Barishal have protested the arrest of Rozina Islam and demanded her immediate release.
Bangladesh Students' Union and Revolutionary Student Unity, among other left-leaning student organsations, condemned the arrest and issued separate statements.
The Editors’ Council, too, expressed its concern over the arrest and so did the BNP.
Rozina Islam’s arrest has also drawn the attention of some major international and foreign media outlets, including AP, Al Jazeera, DW, ABC News, The Hindu and Gulf News.
What civil society has to say
"This grievous and shameful incident has raised questions about the government's willingness to protect the right to freedom of expression and ensure the security of the journalists of the country," said Faruq Faisel, regional director of ARTICLE 19 Bangladesh and South Asia, in a statement released on Tuesday.
He went on to say, "There are logical grounds to believe that harassing Islam for five hours, confining her inside the ministry, seizing her mobile phone, barring her from going to a hospital despite her falling ill during the detention and finally filing a case against her under the Official Secrets Act are results of her chain reports against the corruption and irregularities of the Health Services Division during the pandemic."
Citizens for Good Governance (Shujan) said in a statement that what happened to Islam showed that investigative journalism and a free press were at risk.
In a statement, Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh (DCAB) President Pantho Rahaman and General Secretary AKM Moinuddin termed the incident an unacceptable attempt to intimidate media workers. They demanded a fair and transparent investigation into the whole incident.
Eleven eminent citizens of Bangladesh have also condemned the arrest of Rozina Islam in a statement on Tuesday. Cultural personality and freedom fighter Nasiruddin Yousuff, journalist and political analyst Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, writer and historian Prof Muntassir Mamoon, writer-journalist Shahriar Kabir, media personalities Ramendu Majumdar, Hasan Azizul Haque, Anupom Sen, Sarwar Ali, Mofidul Haque, Mamunur Rashid and Abdus Salim were signatories to the statement.
Bangladesh Mahila Parishad and Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) demanded that Rozina Islam be freed immediately.
Bangladesh Students' Union said in a statement that Islam was doing her job right by exposing the corruption of the Health Ministry amid the global pandemic.