May 22, 2021 

By Ahmed Saeed


South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human right defenders, has expressed concerns over the arrest of Senior Bangladeshi journalist, Rozina Islam, under the draconian Official Secrets Act.

In a statement, SAHR said that Ms. Islam was allegedly confined for over five hours at the Bangladesh Secretariat and harassed by health ministry officials, after which she fell ill.

The statement was issued by SAHR Chairperson Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy and Co-Chairperson Dr. Roshmi Goswami.

Ms. Islam is associated with a Bangla Language daily Prothom Alo as a senior correspondent. The Prothom Alo along with the English-language Daily Star is not allowed to attend government press conferences.

SAHR while condemning the act called on Bangladeshi authorities to provide necessary facilities for her safety and wellbeing in detention until released.

“Rozina was accused of taking pictures of official documents containing important state information, which she has denied, and of committing offences under the Official Secrets Act 1923. SAHR has learned that Rozina had been reporting on corruption and mismanagement in the health sector for the past month”, SAHR statement read.

A Bangladeshi court heard the bail petition filed by Ms. Islam on Thursday, May 20 but delayed the announcement of verdict till Sunday.

“Under international human rights law, journalists cannot be vilified for their work and for exercising their freedom of speech. The Government of Bangladesh must stop intimidating journalists and media personnel for doing their duty and using vague definitions from deeply flawed acts to harass and impose restrictions on critical voices”, the statement said.

SAHR urges the Government of Bangladesh to immediately drop all charges against Rozina Islam, to release her from custody, and to hold a prompt and impartial inquiry into the harassment allegations and take action against those responsible.

“We further express our concerns regarding the use of the colonial-era Official Secrets Act and call upon the government to urgently review this act which is in clear violation of the right to freedom of expression and guarantees of fair trial enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh and in international human rights law”, SAHR said.

Other rights organisations, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Committee to Protect journalists (CPJ) also condemned the arrest of the journalist and demanded Bangladeshi authorities to release her immediately.

According to the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Bangladesh ranks 152nd out of 180 in press freedom in the world.

According to reporters, reporters who investigate corruption or local criminal gangs are liable to be subjected to extremely barbaric violence that ranges from torture to death.