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Bangladesh: Journalist Rozina Islam Arrested Under Colonial-Era Official Secrets Act

Islam, who has been reporting on corruption in the health sector, could face up to 14 years in prison and the death penalty if charged and convicted.
Rozina Islam. Photo: apradhan1968/Twitter

New Delhi: Bangladeshi journalist Rozina Islam, a senior correspondent for Bangla daily Prothom Alo, has been arrested and charged under the Official Secrets Act in what is being seen as retaliation for her reporting on corruption and mismanagement in the health sector.

Charges against Islam have been brought under Sections 385 and 411 of the Penal Code and Sections 3 and 5 of the Official Secrets Act and the case was filed on Monday night at the Shahbagh police station, reported Prothom Alo.

Sajjad Sharif, the managing editor of Prothom Alo, told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that, for the past month, Islam had been reporting on corruption and mismanagement in the health sector and that her arrest was likely in retaliation for her reporting.

Islam was reportedly detained around 3 pm while she was at the health ministry in the secretariat by officials of the ministry. She was confined in a room of the ministry and her mobile phone was confiscated. As per several news reports, Islam fell sick and fainted while under detention at the secretariat and later, at around 8 pm, she was handed over to the police and subsequently taken to the police station at around 9 pm.

Islam has been accused of taking pictures of official documents under sections 3 and 5 of the colonial-era Official Secrets Act and under sections 379 and 411 of the penal code and, as per the laws, could face up to 14 years in prison and the death penalty if charged and convicted. According to the CPJ, Islam is currently being held at the Shahbagh police station in Dhaka.

According to the Dhaka Tribune, the police complaint said that an on-duty police officer saw Islam in the office of Md Saiful Islam Bhuiyan, the personal secretary to the secretary of the Health Services Division. Bhuiyan and additional secretary Kazi Jebunnesa Begum questioned Islam and allegedly found files and photos of documents on her phone, as per the police complaint. Islam, however, has denied taking any files from the room.

Also read: Bangladesh Enacts Digital Security Law in Its Latest Assault on Free Speech

“We are deeply alarmed that Bangladesh officials detained a journalist and filed a complaint under a draconian colonial-era law that carries ridiculously harsh penalties,” CPJ’s senior Asia researcher, Aliya Iftikhar said. “Bangladesh police and authorities should recognise that Rozina Islam is a journalist whose work is a public service and should immediately drop the case against her and allow her to go free.”

After Islam’s arrest, journalists from several news organisations gathered outside the police, demanding that charges against her be dropped. They also demanded that the health minister and health secretary resign. Members of the Bangladesh Secretariat Reporters Forum (BSRF) on Tuesday also boycotted a press briefing of the health ministry in protest against the arrest of Rozina Islam.

The South Asian Women in Media (SAWM), a network of women journalists across South Asia, has expressed concern over Islam’s arrest and demanded her immediate release. Condemning her harassment and arrest, the network reiterated that Islam was performing her duties as a journalist and had been reporting regularly on corruption in the health and other sectors.

CPJ has also called on Bangladeshi authorities to release Islam, withdraw the investigation against her, and stop arresting journalists under the Official Secrets Act.

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At around 11:45pm the case was filed against her at the Shahbagh police station.

Journalist from various news media outlets have gathered outside the police station, protesting against the harassment of Rozina Islam and demanding charges against her to be withdrawn and for her to be freed. They are also demanding the resignation of the health ministry and health secretary.

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