CPJ sends letter to Bangladesh authorities over harassment of journalist Rozina Islam

Mr. Anisul Huq
Minister of Law, Justice, and Parliamentary Affairs
Ministry of Law, Justice, and Parliamentary Affairs
People’s Republic of Bangladesh
[email protected]

CC: Mr. Asaduzzaman Khan
Minister of Home Affairs
Ministry of Home Affairs
People’s Republic of Bangladesh
WhatsApp +880 1711-541569
[email protected]

Dear Minister Anisul Huq,

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent non-governmental organization that champions press freedom around the world, writes to request that you drop legal proceedings against Prothom Alo journalist Rozina Islam and order the immediate return of items that were confiscated from her, including two cell phones, her passport, and her government-issued identity card.

On May 17, 2021, authorities arrested Islam, an award-winning investigative journalist specializing in covering health care issues, including alleged corruption at the Ministry of Health. Authorities held her for over five hours without any clear legal basis after she was accused of taking pictures of official documents lying openly on a desk at the Ministry of Health. She was subsequently jailed for seven days, after which she was granted bail under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, and was ordered to surrender her passport.

We have a number of concerns about authorities’ treatment of Islam. Use of the Official Secrets Act, which allows for up to 14 years in prison or the death penalty upon conviction, is an inappropriate and extremely disproportionate legal remedy for Islam’s alleged actions. Charging journalists under this law only serves to discredit law enforcement in Bangladesh and strengthens the case that these charges are less about enforcing the law than seeking revenge against a journalist known for exposing corruption in the Ministry of Health.

In addition to these charges, Islam is being severely and unjustly punished. The government’s refusal to return her identity card makes it impossible for her to work as a journalist. The seizure of her cell phones hinders her work and severely undermines press freedom, given the sensitive reporting information contained on those devices, and compromises her personal security. The confiscation of her passport makes it impossible for her to accompany her husband for necessary medical treatment abroad. In another move aimed at intimidating Islam, last month the Financial Intelligence Unit asked banks to submit all account and transaction information involving the journalist.

This is pure harassment, and it needs to stop. We urge you to drop the charges against Islam and return her documents and devices immediately. The government of Bangladesh should not be creating obstacles for journalists who are merely doing their jobs.

Yours sincerely,

Steven Butler

Asia Program Coordinator
Committee to Protect Journalists