Prothom Alo reporter Rozina Islam arrested for ‘breaching’ official secrets law

Police have arrested a reporter for what the authorities said was spiriting away “important” documents from a government office and taking photos of the papers at the Secretariat in Dhaka.

Officials handed Rozina Islam, a senior correspondent of the daily Prothom Alo, to Shahbagh police on Monday evening after confining her for more than five hours to the room of Md Saiful Islam Bhuiyan, an aide to Health Services Secretary Lokman Hossain Miah.

In a late-night development, Rozina was sued under the Penal Code and Official Secrets Act for the “theft” and “photographing” of documents.

Rozina denies any wrongdoing, while her newspaper suspects she is framed for reporting corruption in the health sector amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Harun-or-Rashid, an additional deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said Rozina would be taken to the court on Tuesday morning.

DRAMA AT SECRETARIAT

As Rozina was waiting in Saiful’s room to speak to him, the police were called in and she was confined around 3 pm, she told bdnews24.com. Around half a dozen policewomen guarded her in the room, while some police officers waited outside.

Rozina said she was frisked and a policeman identified only as Mizan “harassed” her. “I did not take any document from the office,” she said.

After Rozina fell sick around 6:30 pm, other reporters at the Secretariat demanded her transfer to a hospital, but the authorities did not relent.

Police vehicles entered the Secretariat around 8:15 pm to lead her away. Rozina was moved into a white vehicle and driven to the Shahbagh Police Station. The police did not explain why they detained her.

The journalists repeatedly tried to talk to the health secretary, but he declined to comment on Rozina’s detention.

Md Maidul Islam Prodhan, a spokesman for the health ministry, told reporters later that Rozina took photos of “important” documents.

“She was also taking away some documents. An additional secretary and a policeman challenged her at the time. Later, the policewomen were called in. She was then taken to the police station.”

Rozina’s younger sister Sabina Parvin Sumi provided some details shedding light on what happened inside the Secretariat room.

“She got some documents from a source. Then she told Constable Mizan that she wanted to meet the health secretary. He [Mizan] asked her to wait inside saying that no one was there,” Sabina said.

Rozina refused to sit inside, but Mizan insisted that she must wait inside, according to her sister.

“Sometime later Constable Mizan and two to three others snatched her bag. They threatened to bury her alive because of her negative reporting on the health sector.”

Sabina alleged Rozina was “harassed for performing her professional duty”.

The sister suspects the officials might have slipped some documents into Rozina’s bag after snatching it.

Sabina expressed concerns over her sister’s health and said: “She caught fever after taking a vaccine jab in the morning. We are concerned about her health.”

DEMONSTRATION, SUSPICION

After detention, Rozina was kept waiting in the police station chief’s office. A group of journalists demanded the release of Rozina. As the night wore on, a group of journalists gathered at the police station and shouted slogans for freedom.

Leaders of journalists’ associations delivered speeches, condemning the detention of the reporter.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Bangladeshi authorities to immediately release Rozina, 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.”

‘TARGETED FOR REPORTS’

Sajjad Sharif, the managing editor of the newspaper, said they suspected their colleague was targeted for reporting on corruption scandals in the health sector amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Anisul Hoque, associate editor of the Prothom Alo, has described the case as an attack on journalism, which will undermine the government’s image.

“And it’s unacceptable to us,” he said, vowing a legal battle for Rozina’s freedom. “I hope we will get justice in court.”