An international rights watchdog has called on Bangladeshi authorities to drop all “oppressive charges” against a detained female journalist who wrote investigative reports on corruption and mismanagement in the public health sector, including the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement on Thursday, Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams said: “Bangladesh authorities should produce evidence of wrongdoing or immediately release Rozina Islam and stop arresting journalists for doing their job, which is also to highlight governance flaws.”
Rozina Islam, a senior journalist working for one of the highest circulated Bangladeshi newspapers, Prothom Alo, was arrested on Monday for her alleged attempt to steal sensitive documents from the Health Ministry – a charge she has denied.
Islam has been accused under sections 3 and 5 of the country’s draconian and colonial-era Official Secrets Act and sections 379 and 411 of the Penal Code. If convicted, she could serve up to 14 years of jail and even the death penalty.
Underlining Islam’s arrest as a “terrifying message to journalists uncovering corruption in Bangladesh government,” Adams added: “Instead of locking up critics, encouraging a free press should be central to the government’s strategy to strengthen health services in combatting the pandemic.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists has also 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.”
Rights groups say crackdown on the media has grown during the pandemic in Bangladesh, which has seen just over 12,000 coronavirus deaths and nearly 800,000 infections.
Source: Anadolu Agency