UN concerned over arrest of Rozina Islam

Rozina Islam. Photo: Collected

The UN expressed concerns over the harassment and arrest of journalist Rozina Islam in Dhaka.

"Look, I've seen… we've seen the press reports on the journalist that was arrested in Bangladesh. It is, obviously, something that we are looking at. It is something that's concerning," said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in response to a question at a briefing Tuesday.


Prothom Alo Senior Reporter Rozina Islam, who wrote several in-depth reports on corruption in the health sector amid the Covid-19 pandemic, was sued by the health ministry on charges of stealing and taking photos of "highly sensitive" government documents.

Her family, however, rejected the allegations, saying she was framed while discharging her professional duties. She was also confined in the ministry for over five hours.

"Our position has been clear. Journalists need to be able to do their work free of any sort of harassment or physical threat anywhere around the world. And, obviously, that includes Bangladesh and every other country," Stéphane Dujarric said.

"I think we have seen the very important work that journalists all around the world have done during the pandemic, and they need to be able to continue that work, wherever they may work."

In the United States, the National Press Club and the National Press Club Journalism Institute also condemned what is being done to Rozina and urged the court that is scheduled to hear her case on Thursday to release her.

"At a time of international crisis, it's more important than ever to have independent watchdog reporters looking out for the public interest," said National Press Club President Lisa Nicole Matthews and NPC Journalism Institute President Angela Greiling Keane in a statement.

"The fact that government officials in Bangladesh are trying to silence a journalist only causes the world to wonder what they are trying to hide," they said.

South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, has called on Bangladesh authorities to provide for her safety and wellbeing until she is released.

In a statement jointly signed by SAHR Chairperson Dr Radhika Coomaraswamy and Co-Chairperson Dr Roshmi Goswami, it said under international human rights law, journalists cannot be vilified for their work and for exercising their freedom of speech.

"The government of Bangladesh must stop intimidating journalists and media personnel for doing their duty and using vague definitions from deeply flawed acts to harass and impose restrictions on critical voices."

SAHR urged the Bangladesh government to immediately drop all charges against Rozina, to release her from custody, and to hold a prompt and impartial inquiry into the harassment allegations and to take action against those responsible.

"We further express our concerns regarding the use of the colonial-era Official Secrets Act and call upon the government to urgently review this act which is in clear violation of the right to freedom of expression and guarantees of fair trial enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh and in international human rights law."

Amnesty International called the prosecution of Rozina a brazen attack on the right to freedom of expression and the ability of Bangladeshi society to seek and receive information.

"Information about how the government is procuring Covid-19 vaccines is in the public interest and should not be hidden behind national security locks," said Saad Hammadi, Amnesty International's South Asia Campaigner.

"The circumstances of Rozina Islam's arrest and the failure of the authorities to provide concrete evidence pointing to a recognisable criminal offence raise concerns that she is being targeted for her critical reporting. In the absence of such evidence, the authorities must release her immediately," he said.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also urged the government to restore its credibility by ordering Rozina's immediate release.

Quoting her husband Mithu, RSF said the officials have harassed her physically, pushed her down and tried to strangle her. While snatching her bag, they literally twisted her arm. Her skin got scarred and she also suffered bruises.

Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk, said, "Illegal detention, torture, intimidation, fabrication of evidence … the way the police and judicial authorities have handled this case brings shame on the rule of law in Bangladesh."

RSF urged Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal to order her immediate and unconditional release, dropping the charges.