Calls grew louder for the immediate release of Prothom Alo's investigative reporter Rozina Islam, who was arrested on Monday in a case filed under the Official Secrets Act, 1923.
Journalists, different local and international organisations as well as many distinguished personalities of the country criticised and condemned the arrest yesterday.
They also demanded the withdrawal of the case without any further delay.
Rozina, senior reporter of the Bangla daily, was confined to the health ministry inside the Secretariat for more than five hours before being handed over to Shahbagh Police Station on Monday night.
Later, the law enforcers said she was arrested in the case filed by Shibbir Ahmed Osmani, deputy secretary of the ministry's health services division.
It all happened after the journalist on duty went to the Secretariat.
The incident triggered a firestorm of protests from journalists and different local and international organisations.
Many journalists alleged that Rozina has become a victim of vindictiveness because she unraveled the truth through her reports. Prothom Alo has recently published a series of her investigative reports, which highlighted how corruption was making a dent in the health sector.
Many took to the social media to vent.
Yesterday, Rozina's journalist colleagues continued to demonstrate in the capital and elsewhere in the country, calling for her immediate release.
Besides, they demanded that those who assaulted and harassed her at the Secretariat be punished.
International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists that works to defend press freedom, yesterday vehemently condemned the arrest of Rozina Islam and demanded her immediate release.
"We are greatly concerned that the arrest of Rozina Islam is in retaliation to her investigation into corruption related to Bangladesh's Ministry of Health," said IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi.
"Islam was doing her job as a journalist to investigate and expose corruption and speak truth to power. As a democracy, Bangladesh should respect the right of journalists rather than silencing their voices to hide corruption in the government."
The IPI said press freedom and safety of journalists have suffered a severe setback in Bangladesh as well as in its neighbouring countries in South Asia.
According to IPI's Covid-19 Press Freedom Tracker, so far over 100 violations have been reported from four South Asian countries, including 12 cases in Bangladesh, it added.
ARTICLE 19, an international human rights organisation based in the United Kingdom, too condemned Rozina's arrest.
In a statement, it said the five-hour detention, harassment and torture of Rozina Islam, while on duty, by the government employees of the health ministry is a threat to all journalists across Bangladesh.
"This grievous and shameful incident has raised questions on the government's willingness in protecting the rights to freedom of expression and ensuring the security of the journalists of the country," said Faruq Faisel, regional director, ARTICLE 19, Bangladesh and South Asia.
"Moreover, after detaining her for 5 hours, filing a case against the journalist over the incident almost at midnight has also created the impression that the entire matter is intentional," he added.
Terming the matter a threat to journalism in Bangladesh, ARTICLE 19 expressed grave concern and condemned such harassment of a senior journalist.
The rights organisation also demanded the unconditional release of the victim, withdrawal of the case, fair investigation into the incident and punishment of the officials and staff members involved.
The incident has unveiled that the practice of free and fair journalism is absence in the country and that all media workers are performing their duties under tremendous risks and continues threat.
ARTICLE 19 also expressed grave concern over such a wrath on free media and investigative journalism.
In a joint statement, 11 eminent personalities yesterday condemned the assault on Rozina by government officials at the Secretariat when she was collecting information from the health ministry.
Besides, they condemned the filing of the case against her over "stealing classified information".
They mentioned that the government and the public are jointly working to tackle the Covid-19 situation at present and the health ministry and health workers are playing a significant role in this regard.
But at the same time, the government was embarrassed by irregularities by some officials and employees of the ministry at different times. It also took action against them, they said.
In those cases, the government was benefitted due to investigative reports by journalists like Rozina Islam.
"In this situation, we demand the government enquire the reason behind the incident and also identify those who assaulted Rozina Islam, and conduct an investigation on their activities."
Nasiruddin Yousuff, Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, Prof Muntassir Mamoon, Shahriar Kabir, Ramendu Majumdar, Hasan Azizul Haque, Anupom Sen, Sarwar Ali, Mofidul Haque, Mamunur Rashid and Abdus Salim signed the statement.
In another statement, Editors Guild expressed serious concern over the incident, saying that Rozina Islam was kept detained at the Secretariat for more than five hours and taken to Shahbagh Police Station after she was tortured physically and mentally.
Signed by Mozammel Haque Babu, president of Editors Guild, the statement strongly condemned the way Rozina Islam was treated while she was carrying out her professional duty at the health ministry.
Editors Guild thinks that it is unjust to detain a well-known journalist for hours. "There is a need for a proper investigation into the reasons for her detention and why she was not taken to the hospital even after she fell ill. We also need to find out who is responsible for harassing Rozina," the statement said.
Editors Guild said when the policy of the government focuses on freedom of the media, it is also necessary to investigate who is doing these things inside the bureaucracy or within the administration and thus turning the media against the government.
Editors Guild also thinks that it is journalism's job to expose the truth, to expose lies, and to expose corruption. Rozina Islam was doing that. If there is any deviation from the law, it is desirable to seek redress through the legal process. But physical and mental torture for hours is not a normal process, the statement added.
It urged the government to launch an impartial investigation into the incident and punish the perpetrators.
Besides, it demanded that the case against Rozina be withdrawn immediately.
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) also strongly condemned the way Rozina was confined at the health ministry for a long time while she was performing her professional duties.
In a statement, TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman called for the immediate withdrawal of the case and Rozina's unconditional release.
At the same time, TIB urges all the authorities concerned of the government to show prudence by ensuring exemplary punishment of the culprits through proper investigation into the incident.
"I think this is a warning message from the corrupt for those who are doing journalism with principle and dedication, despite hundreds of adversities, trying to protect the public interest through investigative journalism."
In a statement, Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) strongly condemned the physical and mental abuse of Rozina Islam.
Shaheen Anam, executive director, MJF, demanded the journalist's immediate release.
After Rozina fell ill, she was taken to a police station, instead of a hospital. It was inhumane, she said in the statement.
MJF demanded a fair investigation into the incident and a fair trial.
In another statement, Forum for Freedom of Expression, Bangladesh (FExB), a network of media rights organisations in Bangladesh, said it protested the arbitrary arrest of Rozina Islam for "breaching" the Official Secrets Act.
In Dhaka, journalists protested in front of Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU) at the city's Segunbagicha.
DRU leaders at the programme said they would wage a tough movement if Rozina was not released immediately.
Journalists in Chattogram, Rajshahi, Sylhet, Tangail, Lalmonirhat and Kurigram also demonstrated and formed human chains, seeking justice for Rozina.
Bangladesh Secretariat Reporters' Forum (BSRF) yesterday decided to boycott all events of the health ministry until Rozina was released.
Journalists have also decided to form a human chain in front of Jatiya Press Club at 11:00am today, demanding unconditional release of Rozina, withdrawal of the case filed against her and action against those who assaulted and confined her.
The BSRF yesterday also boycotted a press conference organised by the health ministry. The press conference was scheduled for 11:00am.
Jana Sanghati Andolon also staged a protest programme in front of the Jatiya Press Club.
In separate statements, BNP, National Human Rights Commission, Jatiya Press Club, Workers Party, Communist Party of Bangladesh, Human Rights Support Society, Adibasi Forum, Bangladesh Chhatra Union, Karmajibi Nari, Aviation and Tourism Journalist Forum of Bangladesh, Diplomatic Correspondent Association of Bangladesh, Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association, SAARC Human Rights Foundation, Capital Market Journalist Forum, Economic Reporters' Forum, Bangladesh Muktijoddha Mancha, National Girl Child Advocacy Forum, Udichi Shilpo Gosti and Labour Party also demanded immediate release of Rozina and withdrawal of the case against her.
Meanwhile, 57 noted citizens in a joint statement said the harassment of Rozina Islam has undermined independent journalism, human rights and human dignity of the people of the country.
They said those who have been infuriated by Rozina for practicing media freedom and publishing reports against various corruptions and irregularities, have harassed her and filed a case against her to muzzle journalism.
Serajul Islam Choudhury, Sultana Kamal, Rasheda K Chowdhury, Hafizuddin Khan, Hossain Zillur Rahman, Debapriya Bhattacharya, and Hamida Hossain are among the signatories.
Besides, journalists from Prothom Alo and The Daily Star formed human chain programmes in front of their offices in the capital yesterday, protesting the arrest of Rozina.