We are extremely disturbed by the way a senior reporter of a leading daily in the country has been treated in the line of her duty. Rozina Islam, a senior journalist of Prothom Alo, was kept confined at the health ministry for more than five hours on Monday before being handed over to the police around 8:30 pm. This happened after she went to the secretariat to perform her duties. During her enforced confinement, she was taken ill but was not provided with medical aid. She has now been sued under the Official Secrets Act. Although a request for taking her to remand for five days has been rejected by the court, her bail petition will not be heard until tomorrow.
We wonder whether any person has the right to confine another against their will without being in breach of the law. We believe that Rozina's confinement in the room was illegal, as was her being kept incommunicado for five hours. If the said journalist had indeed violated the law, why did it take five hours to hand her over to the police? On what authority did government officials take the decision to confine her without involving police officials? Why were her colleagues refused information regarding her whereabouts? We demand to know why she was not afforded medical aid after she had fallen sick, and why she was taken to the police station instead.
We condemn the harassment that the journalist is being subjected to. We have reasons to believe that Rozina Islam is the victim of official wrath. The treatment meted out to her at the secretariat, as well as her being charged under the Official Secrets Act, is not surprising, but nonetheless distressing. The series of reports that she had made in the last few months regarding the health ministry helped reveal the depths of depravity and corruption that the ministry had sunk into. Will such coercive behaviour prevent the truth from being exposed? Haven't those reports benefitted the administration? Have not those reports helped save millions of Taka that might otherwise have been misused? We believe her reports have helped the government to take corrective measures to offset actions by corrupt officials that were sabotaging the efforts of the prime minister to deal with the pandemic and improve health services. But instead of gratitude from the administration for a public service, she had to endure the fury of those exposed by her reports.
While we are relieved that her remand was not granted, it is unacceptable that she will still have to suffer the indignity of police custody while she waits for the bail hearing, simply for executing her responsibility as a journalist and a conscientious citizen of this country. In the meantime, her family will suffer the agony of her absence, not knowing what is in store for her next. Rozina Islam's arrest is equivalent to putting handcuffs on the entire media of Bangladesh. Such treatment of journalists in the line of duty cannot be interpreted as anything other than an attack on free press and our right to freedom of speech, and has no place in a functional democracy.