The bail hearing of one of Bangladesh’s most prominent investigative journalists, known for her anti-corruption reporting and criticism of the government’s response to COVID-19, has been put off until Sunday.
Rozina Islam, 42, a senior investigative journalist with Prothom Alo, faces up to 14 years in prison and the possibility of the death penalty if convicted.
Islam was arrested and charged under the country’s Official Secrets Act and appeared before a Dhaka court on Tuesday morning (May 18) for stealing official health ministry documents.
Journalists across Bangladesh are protesting to seek her release and had gathered outside the police station in the capital city of Dhaka, demanding that the charges against her be withdrawn.
Islam has been charged with theft and has been accused of photographing sensitive state documents, a deputy commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, was quoted as saying.
Islam has recently written several investigative reports revealing corruption in the country’s public health sector.
These reports included how urgent medical equipment was left at Dhaka airport for months, bribes were being offered to recruit doctors and alleged there was corruption in the procurement of supplies in the health ministry.
Several international organisations have criticised Islam’s arrest. Human rights organisation Amnesty International called her arrest a “brazen attack on the right to freedom of expression and ability of Bangladeshi society to seek and receive information”.
In a statement, published Wednesday, the Amnesty said: “Information about how the government is procuring COVID-19 vaccines is in the public interest and should not be hidden behind national security locks”.
“The circumstances of Rozina Islam’s arrest and the failure of the authorities to provide concrete evidence pointing to a recognizable criminal offence raise further concerns that she is being targeted for her critical reporting.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent non-profit organisation that upholds press freedom, called on Bangladeshi authorities to immediately release Islam, withdraw the investigation against her and to stop arresting journalists under the Official Secrets Act. (Source: The Print)