Rozina Islam has been accused of stealing documents after discovering corruption in the Ministry of Health during the pandemic.
The arrest of a Bangladeshi investigative journalist who wrote scathing stories about the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has sparked protests from hundreds of journalists.
Rozina Islam, an investigative reporter for Prothom Alo, the country’s largest newspaper, was arrested Monday evening under the Official Secrets Act, police said.
She appeared in court on Tuesday for stealing documents from the Department of Health under the law. A new hearing has been set for Thursday.
Islam, known for unearthing government corruption, faces up to 14 years in prison and the death penalty if charged and convicted.
Rights groups and media watchdogs say the media crackdown has intensified during the coronavirus crisis and hundreds of journalists have surrendered to the Dhaka police station where the 42-year-old journalist reported. been taken away.
The Committee to Protect Journalists called for the immediate release of Islam. “We are deeply alarmed that Bangladeshi officials arrested a journalist and filed a complaint under a draconian colonial-era law that carries ridiculously severe penalties,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ senior researcher in Asia in a press release.
The authorities must drop the charges against the journalist and immediately release her in the interest of the state’s international commitment to protect the right to freedom of expression.
“The Bangladeshi police and authorities should recognize that Rozina Islam is a journalist whose work is a public service and should immediately drop the charges against her and allow her to be released.”
Some journalists tried to block the building’s entrances and protests continued on Tuesday.
Prior to her formal detention, Islam spent five hours at the health ministry, which accused her of stealing documents, according to a ministry complaint seen by the AFP news agency.
The pandemic has worsened press freedom
Leaders of journalists’ unions and advocacy groups who spoke at the protests said Islam was shut down because of its reports on the government’s response to the pandemic.
His stories told of how urgent medical supplies were left at Dhaka airport for months, bribes were offered to recruit doctors, and purchases at the Ministry of Health were plagued by corruption.
“Its reports have clearly exposed the weaknesses of the ministry in protecting people’s health rights during the coronavirus pandemic,” the Center for Law and Mediation group said.
He demanded the immediate release of Islam.
Bangladesh has reported just over 12,000 coronavirus deaths and nearly 800,000 infections, but experts say that vastly underestimates the true toll.
Activists also claim that the pandemic has worsened press freedom in Bangladesh, with the government increasingly using a draconian digital security law to quell criticism.
According to Rezaur Rahman Lenin, a United Nations rights consultant, at least 85 journalists have been charged under the 2018 law during the pandemic.
Saad Hammadi, South Asia expert for Amnesty International, said that the arrest of Islam “is an attack on journalistic freedom.
“The authorities must drop the charges against the journalist and immediately release her in the interest of the state’s international commitment to protect the right to freedom of expression,” he said.
Earlier this month, nine non-governmental organizations wrote to Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, against the Bangladeshi government’s increasingly violent crackdown on media freedom.
At least 247 journalists were reportedly subjected to attacks and intimidation by officials and others over the past year, according to a report by Amnesty International.