Rozina Islam was arrested for discovering official corruption in the government’s COVID response, causing a strong protest.
A leading female journalist in Bangladesh reported official corruption in the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. After being detained, it triggered protests across the country and aroused international condemnation, she was granted conditional bail.
Rozina Islam, 42, is an investigative reporter for Bangladesh’s largest daily newspaper, Prothom Alo, and was arrested by the police on Monday under the Official Secrets Act, which may be sentenced to death. She was later charged with stealing documents from the Ministry of Health.
Lawyers in Islamabad told reporters that Islam was released on bail on Sunday after being ordered to return the passport and pay 5,000 taka (US$60) bail from the chief metropolitan of Dhaka, the capital.
Prosecutor Abdullah Abu did not object to the bail request. The two sides told reporters that the justice of the peace Baki Bila mentioned in the order that the media plays a supporting role in democracy.
Dhaka’s chief prosecutor Abdullah Abu told AFP: “As long as she submits her passport, we will not object to her temporary bail.”
He said that the passport was submitted to prevent her from leaving the country, adding that Islam is expected to be released from detention later on Sunday.
Journalists’ unions and propaganda groups say Islam has been detained for its stories, including allegations that medical equipment is urgently needed to stay at Dhaka airport for several months, and that it has offered bribes to recruit doctors.
According to case documents seen by the Associated Press, Islam was arrested on suspicion of using her mobile phone to photograph documents relating to the government’s negotiations to purchase a coronavirus vaccine without permission, while she was waiting in the room of an official involved in the process.
Islam’s strong reports on corruption in the Ministry of Health and others have attracted people’s attention, and they have spent millions of dollars on medical equipment to deal with this pandemic.
Her detention triggered national protests by thousands of journalists and political and civil rights activists. Human rights groups say that during the coronavirus crisis, repression of the media has increased.
So far, Bangladesh has reported nearly 800,000 coronavirus infections and more than 12,300 deaths, but experts say the actual number may be much higher.
The secretary-general of the Bangladesh National Press Club welcomed the court’s bail decision, but requested that the prosecution against her be dropped. Elias Khan told AFP: “She was required to submit a passport, which restricted her freedom of movement.”
“We demand that all cases against her be dismissed immediately… Bangladeshi journalists are still working in an atmosphere of fear.”
Bangladesh’s foreign minister, AK Abdul Momen, regretted the arrest on Thursday and said that justice will be given to Islam.
Her family said that Islam was detained for more than five hours in the personal assistant room of the secretary of the Ministry of Health on Monday. Her sister said that Islam was physically and mentally harassed before it was handed over to the police.
Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, said: “Encouraging freedom of the press, rather than restraining critics, should be at the core of the government’s strategy to strengthen health services to combat epidemics.”
The New York-based regulator said that at least 247 journalists were reported to have been attacked, harassed and intimidated by state officials and other officials associated with the government in 2020.
It said that there were more than 900 lawsuits filed under the Digital Security Law, nearly 1,000 people were prosecuted, and 353 people were detained, many of whom were journalists.