The incident has revealed that the practice of free and fair journalism is absent in Bangladesh, says the UK-based human rights watchdog
The detention, harassment and torture of the daily Prothom Alo senior reporter Rozina Islam, while on duty, by employees of the Health Ministry is a threat to all journalists across the country, ARTICLE 19 has said.
"This grievous and shameful incident has raised questions on the government's willingness in protecting the right to freedom of expression and ensuring the security of the journalists of the country," said the organization’s Regional Director Faruq Faisel.
Moreover, after detaining the journalist for five hours, suing her over the incident almost at midnight had also created the impression that the entire matter was intentional, he said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
Terming the matter a threat to the practice of journalism in Bangladesh, ARTICLE 19, a UK-based human rights watchdog, expressed grave concern and condemned such harassment of a senior journalist.
It also demanded the unconditional release of Ms Islam, withdrawal of the case against her, a fair investigation into the incident and punishment of the officials involved.
“The incident has revealed that the practice of free and fair journalism is absent in the country and all media workers are performing their duties under tremendous risk and continuous threat,” reads the ARTICLE 19 statement.
Faruq Faisel further said: “There are logical grounds to believe that harassing Rozina for five hours, confining her inside the ministry, seizing her mobile phone, barring her from going to the hospital despite her falling sick during detention and finally filing a case against her under the Official Secrets Act are the results of her chain of reports against the corruption and irregularities of the Health Services Division during the Covid-19 pandemic."
ARTICLE 19 said it believed that all government information belonged to the people.
“Preventing a journalist from gathering information is a threat to freedom of expression. No governmental authority has the right to confine a journalist and torture him/her inside a government establishment,” it added.
“Rozina Islam is an internationally recognized journalist and such an assault on her by government employees has exposed the real situation of the mass media and safety of journalists in the country,” ARTICLE 19 said.
Expressing disappointment over the matter, Faruq Faisel stated that the government should pay attention to the issue and journalists' associations should remain united for the sake of their professional interest and personal security.
It would not be possible for journalists to enjoy their right to practice journalism freely unless or until journalist leaders were united, he added.
Confinement and arrest
Health Ministry officials handed Rozina Islam over to the police on Monday after confining her at the office of Saiful Islam Bhuiyan, personal secretary to Health Services Division Secretary Lokman Hossain Miah.
She was later sued under the Official Secrets Act and the Penal Code for “theft and photographing” of official documents.
On Tuesday, a Dhaka court turned down the appeal of the police to quiz Rozina Islam in custody for five days.
She has been taken to Kashimpur prison in Gazipur, where she will be detained until the next hearing of her bail petition on Thursday.