Eighty-three eminent citizens of the country have demanded unconditional release of daily Prothom Alo's Senior Reporter Rozina Islam, who was arrested in a case filed by the health ministry on Monday.
In a statement yesterday, they said, "We strongly demand the immediate withdrawal of the motivated case against Rozina Islam, her unconditional release, an inquiry to identify those responsible for harassing her and bringing them to book."
They said everyone, including the civil society, had hoped that Rozina would have been granted bail on Thursday in consideration of the sensitive nature of the incident, the citizen's right to bail and the question of justice.
However, the decision on bail order was fixed for tomorrow.
The eminent citizens said, "The delay by the court in taking a decision regarding Rozina's bail disappointed us."
They said all the charges in the case against Rozina were bailable and if she had been granted bail, there would have been no obstacle to the next hearing of the case.
The statement said, "There has been strong protest and reaction from home and abroad about the arrest of senior woman journalist Rozina on fabricated charges by the health and family welfare ministry. The journalist community, civil society and even senior quarters within the government have issued statements terming the arrest of Rozina unwarranted and an embarrassment for the government. The United Nations has expressed its concern at the incident too. The issue has appeared in leading newspapers of the world, which had raised questions about the country and government's image in the context of freedom of expression and democracy."
The 83 signatories to this statement include educationist Serajul Islam Choudhury, former caretaker government advisers Wahiduddin Mahmud, Sultana Kamal, Hafizuddin Khan, Rasheda K Choudhury, Hossain Zillur Rahman, economist Debapriya Bhattacharya, human rights activist Sultana Kamal, former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumder, Transparency International Bangladesh's Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman, Gonoshasthaya Kendra's Zafrullah Chowdhury, Bangladesh Supreme Court lawyers Shahdeen Malik, ZI Khan Panna, Sara Hossain, Nijera Kori Coordinator Khushi Kabir, Shujan Secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association Chief Executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan, professors Ali Riaz, Swapan Adnan and ALRD Executive Director Shamsul Huda.
The teachers signing the statement include Dhaka University's CR Abrar, Asif Nazrul, Geeti Ara Nasreen, Robaet Ferdous, Samina Lutfa, Tanzimuddin Khan, Shahnaz Huda, Sumaiya Khair, Zobaida Nasrin, Kazi Maruful Islam, Gobinda Chakraborty, Jahangirnagar University's Anu Muhammad, Mirza Taslima Sultana, Sayeed Ferdous, Nasrin Khandakar and Saima Khatun, Chittagong University's Maidul Islam and Sadaf Noor, and researchers Meghna Guhathakurta and Nova Ahmed.
Also signatories of the statement are photographers Shahidul Alam, Parveen Hasan, Firdous Azim, Akmal Hossain, Asiatic Society of Bangladesh President Mahfuza Khanam, human rights activists Sharmeen Morshed, Shireen P Huq, Sanjeeb Drong, Pallab Chakma, Faustina Pereira, Arup Rahi, Muktasree Chakma, Noor Khan, Rehnuma Ahmed, Ilira Dewan, Subrata Chowdhury, Ijazul Islam, Hana Shams Ahmed, Rezaur Rahman and Salma Ali.
Other signatories are Selim Jahan, Shameem Azad, Bina D'Costa, Abu Sayeed Khan, Tabarak Hossain, Parsa Sajid, Lubna Marium, Naila Z Khan, Saidia Gulrukh, Fauzia Khandakar, Kazi Sufia Akhter, Sushmita Pritha, Phillip Gain, Rezanur Rahman, Kanak Chakma, Mahbubur Rahman, Shimul Saha, Kamar Ahmed, Sara Afrin, Nasimul Ara Huq, Rozina Begum and Ahmed Kabir Kishore.
In another development, journalist leaders yesterday threatened to launch tougher programmes if Rozina is not released by tomorrow.
The speakers gave the warning while addressing a rally in protest of Rozina's arrest in front of Dhaka Reporters Unity.
Speaking at the programme, organised by DRU, Deep Azad, treasurer of a faction of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ), said they would wait till tomorrow for the bail of journalist Rozina, who was arrested in a case filed under the Official Secrets Act-1923.
DRU General Secretary Mashiur Rahman Khan said they will sit today with the leaders of other organisations like the National Press Club, BFUJ and Dhaka Union of Journalists to set their next course of action.
Expressing distrust over the probe committee formed by the health ministry, he said they have already informed the information minister to form a neutral probe body dissolving the health ministry's one to investigate the incident, but they were yet to see any progress.
Terming the probe body one-sided, the journalist leader said if a neutral committee is not formed, DRU members will launch an investigation and reveal what happened with Rozina.
Shahidul Islam, general secretary of a Dhaka Union of Journalists faction, said though the case is a bailable one, the victim is still in jail. "It is very important to continue our protest for the interest of free journalism."
Ashish Kumar Dey, president of Shipping and Communication Reporters Forum, said during the BNP-Jamaat government, a state minister of energy and mineral resources was forced to step down following news of bribe scam involving him was published in media. But in the case of Rozina, she was tortured to take revenge for her reports, he added.
Shahanaz Sharmeen, former DRU welfare secretary, asked, "Did you do any investigation based on the reports written by Rozina on corruption and take any action so far?"
An attempt to murder case should be filed against the health ministry's officials involved in torturing Rozina and the DRU should come forward to do this, said senior journalist Omar Faruk.
DRU Vice-president Osman Gani Babul presided over the protest rally.
Meanwhile, Sushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan) at a virtual discussion also demanded Rozina's immediate release and protested curbing the freedom of press.
In a press release, Shujan Secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar said there were some myths in the country and one of them was that freedom of press will not be curbed.
But now that myth has gone away and even a journalist was assaulted after being confined.
Eminent jurist Shahdeen Malik said this Official Secrets Act was enacted to ensure punishment for providing information to enemies on defence of the government. It is a law for military secret affairs, he said.
It seems that the case under the act was filed hurriedly to get Rozina in trouble, he said.
Military soldiers can arrest a person in restricted areas such as cantonment or its adjoining areas if a case is filed under the act, he said.
Cases under the act cannot be applicable to a journalist who has the right to enter the secretariat for gathering information, he added.
M Hafiz Uddin Khan, president of Shujan, said everyone will have to protest by rising above political affiliation to ensure freedom and the rule of law; otherwise such incidents will increase.
Among others, Manabzamin Editor-in-chief Matiur Rahman Chowdhury and Bangladesh Adivasi Forum leader Sanjeeb Drong also spoke.
'ROZINA WILL GET FAIR TREATMENT'
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen yesterday said Rozina will get fair treatment and judgment.
"Bangladesh's judiciary is very independent, she [Rozina] will get fair treatment, and judgment. We don't want anyone to suffer," he told CNN in a live interview.
He also mentioned that this is a legal issue and they do not intend to interfere in the process.
Momen said there is law in the country and they honour the law and that is why they do not want to talk about it much since it is now before the court. "Rozina will get a fair judgment… no doubt about that."