Rozina Islam’s bail hearing has been scheduled for Thursday
Bangladesh authorities should drop all the ‘‘oppressive charges’’ against renowned journalist Rozina Islam, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.
Rozina's colleagues believe she was detained over her reporting on corruption and mismanagement in the public health sector, including the government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, said the HRW.
She is accused under sections 3 and 5 of the Official Secrets Act and sections 379 and 411 of the Penal Code, for allegedly attempting to "collect sensitive government documents and taking photos of them" at the Health Ministry.
Journalists across Bangladesh are protesting to seek her release, HRW said.
"Bangladesh authorities should produce evidence of wrongdoing or immediately release Rozina Islam and stop arresting journalists for doing their job, which is also to highlight governance flaws," said Brad Adams, HRW Asia director.
"Instead of locking up critics, encouraging a free press should be central to the government's strategy to strengthen health services in combatting the pandemic."
Quoting media reports, the HRW said Rozina went to the Health Ministry on May 17 for a meeting with the health services secretary.
She was confined to a room there for nearly six hours, during which she fell ill and fainted, then was taken to the police.
According to the complaint filed by the Health Ministry, she had taken government documents related to the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines. She denies these allegations.
The HRW said in a video recording by another journalist after her hearing on May 18, Rozina said, "because of my reporting on the Health Ministry, I'm being wronged."
On Tuesday, a magistrate court turned down the police department's request for a five-day remand and instead sent her to jail until her bail hearing scheduled for Thursday.
"The arrest of Rozina Islam sends a terrifying message to journalists uncovering corruption in Bangladesh," Adams said. "By speaking out for Rozina Islam, concerned government will be standing with Bangladeshi journalists across the country."