Rozina Islam, an investigative journalist for Prothom Alo newspaper, the country’s largest circulated newspaper, was detained late on Monday under the Official Secrets Act.
She appeared in court on Tuesday charged with stealing health ministry documents under the act. A new hearing was set for Thursday.
Islam, known for unearthing government corruption, faces up to 14 years in prison and the death penalty if charged and convicted.
Rights groups and media watchdogs say a crackdown on the media has grown during the coronavirus crisis and hundreds of journalists went to the Dhaka police station where the 42-year-old reporter was taken.
The Committee to Protect Journalists called for Islam’s immediate release. “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 in a statement.
The authorities must drop the cases against the journalist and release her immediately in the interest of the state’s international commitment at protecting the right to freedom of expression.
“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.”
Some journalists tried to block entrances to the building and the protests continued on Tuesday.
Before her formal detention, Islam spent five hours at the health ministry, which accused her of stealing documents, according to a ministry complaint seen by AFP news agency.
Pandemic worsened press freedom
Leaders of journalist unions and advocacy groups who spoke at the protests said Islam had been arrested because of her reports on the government’s response to the pandemic.
Her stories included how urgent medical equipment was left at Dhaka airport for months, bribes were being offered to recruit doctors and procurement at the health ministry was plagued with corruption.
“Her reports have clearly exposed the weaknesses of the ministry to safeguard the health rights of the people during the coronavirus pandemic,” the Law and Mediation Centre group said.
It demanded Islam’s immediate release.
Bangladesh has reported just over 12,000 coronavirus deaths and nearly 800,000 infections, but experts say this grossly underreports the true toll.
Activists also say the pandemic has worsened freedom of the press in Bangladesh, with the government increasingly using a draconian digital security law to stifle criticism.
Reproduced from media sources.