Senior journalist Rozina Islam's arrest and the failure of the Bangladesh authorities to provide concrete evidence pointing to a recognisable criminal offence raise concerns that she is being targeted for her critical reporting, Amnesty International said Wednesday.
In the absence of such evidence, the authorities must release Rozina immediately and she should not be punished for fulfilling her professional duties as a journalist, the human rights organisation also said.
Amnesty's South Asia Campaigner Saad Hammadi said: "Rozina Islam has exposed irregularities in Bangladesh's health sector for the past few months during the Covid-19 pandemic and her arrest points to an increasing trend of a wider crackdown on freedom of expression through draconian laws to silence critical or dissenting views."
Prothom Alo Managing Editor Sajjad Sharif told Amnesty that Rozina has produced several investigative reports critical of the public health sector during the Covid-19 pandemic. The newspaper feels that the actions taken against her are a result of the authority's grievance against her.
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"The prosecution of Rozina under the Official Secrets Act is a brazen attack on the right to freedom of expression and the ability of Bangladeshi society to seek and receive information," Saad said.
"Information about how the government is procuring Covid-19 vaccines is in the public interest and should not be hidden behind national security locks. The way in which the public health sector operates during the pandemic is of critical public interest," he added.
On May 17, the authorities held Prothom Alo senior journalist Rozina for five hours within the Health Ministry on the allegations of stealing confidential official documents and espionage.
A deputy secretary of the health ministry accused her of stealing confidential official documents from the ministry under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act 1923 and the Penal Code of Bangladesh.