The blatant disregard towards the law by a section of government employees indicates their lack of appreciation for the importance of objective journalism
It is with deep trepidation that all quarters observe the unfolding events around Rozina Islam, an investigative reporter of Prothom Alo. That any citizen, not to mention a working journalist, could be detained against her will at the secretariat, the very heart of the Bangladesh government, had been beyond imagination. It is further concerning that there are allegations of harassment while the reputed journalist was being held forcibly at the health ministry, which has been at the centre of many of Rozina’s exposés that caused much embarrassment to the authorities. This latest act of aggression, which must have been approved by the higher authorities, jeopardises the fragile détente, forcing even the sycophants to take to the streets and protest.
The blatant disregard towards the law by a section of government employees indicates their lack of appreciation for the importance of objective journalism or that the Right to Information Act stipulates that most information should be disclosed in public interest. It is ironic that a nation which bravely fought to break the shackles of tyranny time and again is being governed by institutions that continue to embrace the relics left behind by those vanquished tyrants. Merely a tool to constrict and constrain free speech, the Official Secrets Act was not designed to strengthen democracy or increase transparency. In fact, the precursor to the 1923 act of the colonial era dates back to 1889, according to reports, when editors of influential newspapers across India were becoming too fearless in their reporting and commentaries.
One can only urge the authorities that Rozina Islam’s rights as a citizen be recognised and that the law be followed duly. It would naturally be incumbent upon the appropriate authorities to probe the matter exhaustively not just to establish propriety or the lack thereof, but it should be in a manner tempered with the spirit of free speech and liberty that the constitution holds sacrosanct. It is perhaps in that same spirit to prevent a recurrence of Rozina’s unfortunate plight that the government should look into enacting laws to empower journalism in the public interest and renounce and repudiate the laws that suffocate media freedom. While the press has been fairly docile thus far, events like this could trigger a flare-up with journalists, even those supposedly within the fold, to become critical and voice their critique in print. With the internet and social media flooded with these voices, even the Digital Security Act would cease to be a deterrent.
For the time being it might be prudent to simply let her go. Rozina Islam belongs in a newsroom not a jail cell, at least not until she has been proven guilty.