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Bangladesh court asks media and everyone else to act ‘responsibly’, Rozina’s lawyer says 

  • Court Correspondent, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2021-05-23 16:17:51 BdST

The court has ordered everyone to act “responsibly” while granting bail to Prothom Alo’s Senior Reporter Rozina Islam in a case filed under the antiquated Official Secrets Act on charges of “stealing” government documents.

On Sunday, Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate Baki Billah granted the bail on two conditions: a Tk 5,000 bond and the surrender of her passport.

“The judge said in the bail order that everyone has specific responsibility towards the state, society and the judiciary,” Ashraf Ul Alam, one of the defence lawyers, said after the court proceedings.

“In future, the media and everyone else must act responsibly. None of our actions should tarnish the image of the state.”

As the hearing was conducted in a virtual court, Rozina was at the Kashimpur jail in Gazipur during the session. Her colleagues gathered outside the Kashimpur jail to welcome her.

They have handed over Rozina’s passport and other documents and she is likely to be released from jail on Sunday, said another defence lawyer, Prashanta Karmakar.

The hearing of Rozina’s bail appeal began on Thursday, but the judge deferred his decision to Sunday, a decision that frustrated media and rights activists.

After the hearing resumed on Sunday, the prosecution did not object to the bail to Rozina on the condition of surrendering her passport, Public Prosecutor Abdullah Abu said.

Police take Prothom Alo journalist Rozina Islam to Dhaka CMM’s court on Monday, May 18, 2021, after arresting her under the Official Secrets Act. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

Police take Prothom Alo journalist Rozina Islam to Dhaka CMM’s court on Monday, May 18, 2021, after arresting her under the Official Secrets Act. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

The interim bail will be effective until Jul 15, the date for the next court appearance. The detective police, an agency that probes the case, will have to submit an investigation report on that day. Police sought a court order to send the two mobile phones, confiscated from Rozina, to the forensic lab for investigation.

On May 17, Rozina was confined to a room of the Secretariat’s Health Services Division for more than five hours over allegations of spiriting away important government documents and taking photos of the papers.

Rozina denied any wrongdoing. Her colleagues said she might have been targeted because of her reports on alleged irregularities in the health ministry amid the coronavirus pandemic. Her family also complained that she was physically harassed while being held at the Secretariat.

On May 18, a Dhaka court turned down a police plea to interrogate Rozina in their custody.

Rozina’s petition for bail was first heard by the court on May 20. The court deferred its decision on the bail to Sunday after the prosecution and defence disagreed on the addition of new evidence to the first information report, a police document that sets criminal justice in motion.

The arrest of Rozina drew condemnation from media activists and rights organisations. The Human Rights Watch said the detention of Rozina was a “major strike against media freedom”.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called for her release, while a spokesperson for the UN secretary-general expressed concern.

“We are grateful to the journalist community, journalistic organisations, the National Press Club, Dhaka Reporters’ Unity, DUJ, BFUJ, human rights activists and the Information Commission for their earnest support for Rozina,” Prothom Alo’s Deputy Editor Anisul Hoque said in his reaction to the bail order.

“Media personnel always have conflicting relations with the state. This is mentioned in the introduction of the Right to Information Act. Freedom of the press always reduces corruption,” he said. “We want the authorities to ensure a proper trial to resolve the case.”