Bangladesh court turns down police appeal to remand Prothom Alo reporter Rozina Islam

A Dhaka court has turned down an appeal from the police to interrogate Prothom Alo’s senior reporter Rozina Islam in their custody.

Rozina was brought to court on accusations of trying to “steal” government documents and “taking photographs” of them on her mobile phone.

The court will hear Rozina’s appeal for bail on Thursday. That means she will be detained in jail until the next court appearance.

Metropolitan Magistrate Mohammad Jashim issued an order after a partial hearing of the case on Tuesday.

Shahbagh Police Inspector Arifur Rahman Sardar had petitioned the court for a five-day remand to question the journalist in police custody.

Rozina was detained at the Secretariat office of Md Saiful Islam Bhuiyan, an aide to Health Services Secretary Lokman Hossain Miah, for five hours on Monday.

Photo: Asif Mahmud Ovi

She was then taken to Shahbagh Police Station around 8:30 pm. Deputy Secretary of Health Services Shibbir Ahmed then filed a case against her under the Official Secrets Act.

Rozina, known for her reportage of corruption scandals most recently in the health sector during the pandemic, was represented by lawyers Ehsanul Haque Shomaji and Ashraful Alam at the hearing.

“This unfortunate behaviour was perpetrated on a journalist while they were performing their professional duties,” Shomaji said during the hearing.

Photo: Asif Mahmud Ovi

“There is no validity to the claims in the case. This news was not a top secret. Instead, it was more like an open secret. But she was still arrested and mentally and physically abused.”

“Writer Anisul Hoque [associate editor at Prothom Alo], he will act as a bailsman. I request bail for her.”

But the judge, Mohammad Jashim, left the bail hearing pending.

“It is not conventional for us to dismiss the remand and allow bail on the same day,” the judge said. “You should petition for bail tomorrow. A virtual court will hear it and decide on the matter.”

Rozina Islam

After speaking to the lawyers, the judge then set Thursday as the date for the bail hearing.  

The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Bangladeshi authorities to immediately release journalist Rozina Islam, withdraw the investigation into her, and to stop arresting journalists under the Official Secrets Act.

“We are deeply alarmed that Bangladesh officials detained a journalist and filed a complaint under a draconian colonial-era law that carries ridiculously harsh penalties,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher.

“Bangladesh police and authorities should recognise that Rozina Islam is a journalist whose work is a public service and should immediately drop the case against her and allow her to go free.”