Dhaka, May 19, (EFE).- Bangladeshi journalists protested for the second day on Wednesday, demanding the release of a female investigative reporter arrested on charges of stealing confidential government documents.
A Dhaka court sent journalist Rozina Islam, 42, a senior reporter with Prothom Alo newspaper, one of the largest circulated in the country, to judicial custody on Tuesday after police charged her with a colonial-era law, the Official Secrets Act.
The court will hear her bail application on Thursday.
Rozina earned her fame for reporting on corruption in Bangladesh’s health sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Her family members and colleagues alleged Rozina was detained for several hours at the Bangladesh secretariat and tortured physically and mentally on Monday after she went there for regular reporting duty.
Bangladesh’s Health Ministry alleged that Rozina was illegally taking snaps of confidential state documents on her phone at the ministry office.
“Most of the documents obtained from her were related to Bangladesh’s vaccine purchase deal with two foreign countries,” the ministry said in a newspaper advertisement on Wednesday.
“If they were published, Bangladesh’s diplomatic relation with foreign countries could have deteriorated and vaccine purchase could have been disrupted,” it added.
The ministry denied allegations of torture.
Several journalist groups protested against her arrest on Tuesday, saying that it was a “blatant attack on press freedom and attempt to muzzle the press.”
“We demand immediate release of Rozina Islam, withdrawal of case against her and end of all harassment against her,” Moshiur Rahman, general secretary of Dhaka Reporters Unity, the biggest platform of reporters in Dhaka, told EFE.
Other journalist groups held protest rallies on Wednesday.
“We analyzed the circumstances of Rozina Islam’s arrest and harassment. She has become a victim for her strong reporting against health ministry officials for their involvement in corruption,” Ahammad Foyez, the General-Secretary of Reporters Against Corruption, told EFE.
The use of the 1923 Official Secrets Act against a journalist is rare.
But rights group Amnesty International said the Bangladesh government continued to use the “draconian” Digital Security Act (DSA) 2018 to suppress the right to freedom of expression and to target and harass journalists and human rights defenders.
State agencies and individuals affiliated with the government allegedly attacked, harassed, and intimidated nearly 250 journalists in 2020, it said in a recent report. EFE