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Bangladesh journalist Rozina Islam held for ‘espionage’, could face up to 14 yrs in jail or death

Rozina Islam was detained late Monday under Bangladesh's ‘Official Secrets Act’ for allegedly stealing confidential documents. She recently reported on mismanagement in health sector.

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New Delhi: The bail hearing of Bangladeshi journalist Rozina Islam, who was arrested late Monday under the country’s Official Secrets Act, has been put off till Sunday.

Islam, a 42-year-old journalist with Prothom Alo, the largest circulated newspaper in Bangladesh, is known for her investigative reports that exposed corruption in the country and recently reported on the mismanagement of the public health sector in Bangladesh.

She has been accused of stealing confidential official documents and espionage. If formally charged and convicted, Islam faces up to 14 years in prison and the death penalty.

After her arrest, various journalists had gathered outside the police station in the capital city of Dhaka, demanding that the charges against be withdrawn.

Also read: Bangladeshi writer Mushtaq Ahmed, arrested 9 months ago for ‘anti-govt content’, dies in jail

Why Islam was arrest

Islam has been charged with theft and has been accused of photographing sensitive state documents, Harun-or-Rashid, an additional deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, was quoted as saying.

A report by The Dhaka Tribune, noted that according to the police complaint, an an on-duty police officer saw Islam in the office of Md Saiful Islam Bhuiyan, the personal secretary to the secretary of Health Services Division.

Bhuiyan and Additional Secretary Kazi Jebunnesa Begum questioned and searched Islam in a room for six hours, and allegedly found files and saw photos of documents on her phone. However, Islam denied taking any files from the room.

Recently, Islam wrote 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.

International support to Islam

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, an independent nonprofit organisation that upholds a free press, called on Bangladeshi authorities to immediately release Islam, withdraw the investigation against her and to stop arresting journalists under the Official Secrets Act.

Also read: Our press is free, just look at criticism on economy, Rafale — India tells media watchdog


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