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Dhaka Tribune

MOSC: Freedom of speech can be brought back with strong movement

Right activists have boycotted the committee formed by the Health Ministry to review Monday’s incident with journalist Rozina Islam

Update : 19 May 2021, 09:32 PM

Freedom of speech can only be established through a strong movement, which has been seen in the protests for Rozina Islam’s unconditional release, rights activists have said. 

Civil society members, lawyers, and university teachers spoke about the recent events surrounding Prothom Alo journalsit Islam and the Official Secrets Act during a virtual discussion titled "Media, Freedom of Speech on The Brink of Disaster" on Wednesday afternoon.

They also discussed the government’s role in all that has transpired since Monday, as well as the challenges for journalists and media in general under the existing laws.

Islam, an investigative journalist known for her reports on corruption, went to the Health Ministry at the secretariat on Monday afternoon to perform her professional duties.

She was reportedly detained and harassed there for more than six hours for allegedly stealing and illegally photographing important official documents. At one point she fell ill. Later, she was handed over to Shahbagh police and she was taken to the station from the secretariat around 8:30pm.

Experts said the allegations against Rozina Islam need to be scrutinized to see whether the Official Secrets Act can be applied in this case. 

They also boycotted the committee formed by the Health Ministry to review Monday’s incident. 

Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan) General Secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar, economist Prof Anu Muhammad, Dhaka University (DU) Prof CR Abrar, Barrister Sara Hossain, ARTICLE 19 Regional Director of Faruq Faisel, DU Prof Robayet Ferdous, among others took part in the online event which was presided over by eminent jurist Dr Shahdeen Malik.

ARTICLE 19’s Faruq said: “Journalists, artists, and writers outside Dhaka are being arrested under the Digital Security Act. Multiple cases are being filed against them for having a different opinion. But this strong protest movement to free Islam is a beacon of hope for us.

“The information minister is still silent regarding this issue. It has been heard that Islam will be granted conditional bail. If this is the case then no one will be able to do journalism in Bangladesh,” he added.

Echoing the same, Prof Robayet said: “A number of corporate businessmen, bodies now own several of our media houses. Here, with the corporations, government, and journalists, exists a tripartite situation. This situation is also responsible for the failure to ensure freedom of speech.”

Badiul Alam, the Shujan general secretary, said: “It is the job of a journalist to find out the truth for the people. In a democratic state, the government is accountable to the people. It is not a crime to reveal what the truth is in the interests of the people.”

Prof Anu Muhammad, speaking on the ministry committee, said: “We do not accept the committee formed by those who have tortured and harassed a journalist. We understand, from the statements of the law minister and home minister, they are positive about Islam’s bail in the face of the ongoing movement.

“It is also understood that the law does not move at its own pace but at the pace of the government,” he added.

Legal experts have said there is need for a review on how suitable it is to enforce a 100-year-old law, the Official Secrets Act, in the case of Islam. 

“The incident of harassment and torture of a journalist at the secretariat did not pay any homage to the 50th anniversary of our independence,” said Barrister Sara Hossain.

“There is a need to review whether the colonial-era law can be used now after the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, and it is also necessary to review whether this law conflicts with the new laws. We can ask the court for a clear explanation as to whether it is applicable or not,” he added.

DU Prof Asif Nazrul said: “The actions of bureaucrats and police need to be reviewed. The government should investigate every corruption report done by Islam. Those involved in corruption in the Health Ministry need to be punished. We want an unconditional release of Islam.”

Prof Nazrul also pressed for the amendment of the Digital Security Act (DSA) and laws that violate the fundamental rights of the people.

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