When a well-respected journalist of Rozina Islam’s calibre is so grossly mistreated, the entire media community is in danger
What happened to Rozina Islam -- a senior journalist from Prothom Alo -- when she went to the Secretariat to simply do her job is something no media professional should ever have to go through, and is a grim reminder of the state of press freedom and basic rights in this country.
Ms. Islam was detained at the Secretariat for five hours, her phone confiscated, after which she was handed over to the police. A case has been filed under the colonial era Official Secrets Act, and Ms. Islam has been sent to jail, where she remains.
In the first place, the Official Secrets Act is a colonial era law that has no place in independent Bangladesh. That no democratic government has sought to repeal it or at least meaningfully amend it to bring it into line with democratic governance is a sad commentary on our fidelity to the founding principles of the nation. The law, which is intended to safeguard the nation from espionage and serious threats to internal security, is certainly inapplicable to the current contretemps.
The work of journalism is to uncover facts and uphold the truth, and a journalist cannot be punished for gathering information. The use of this law in this instance is clear overreach and overreaction, and apart from the injustice being meted out to a highly respected journalist, can also serve only to further entrench a chilling effect on media freedom and the morale of journalists in this country, already at low ebb.
Secondly, regardless of what Ms. Islam was accused of, her treatment is in no way acceptable. Detaining a citizen for hours on end, past the point that they fall ill, is a clear violation of human rights to say nothing of the law of the land: Journalist or not, such incidents are unacceptable. We are gratified to note that the court has rejected the plea for her remand and that her bail petition is to be heard tomorrow.
The work done by journalists is a cornerstone of a democratic nation. The press reveals the truth and in doing so holds those in public office accountable, and by pointing out errors and irregularities helps the authorities to make the right decisions. Indeed, in this way, a free media is and always will remain, the government’s best friend.
Recently, much has been said about the rapid spread of fake news and the need to curb it. Indeed, the way out of the avalanche of social media misinformation and disinformation is by letting the established media do its job. When a well-respected journalist of Rozina Islam’s calibre is so grossly mistreated, the entire media community is in danger, and the entire nation suffers.