Eighty-three eminent citizens of Bangladesh have expressed concern about the confinement of investigative journalist Rozina Islam, senior reporter of Bengali daily Prothom Alo, and have demanded bail and an unconditional release in the case filed by the Ministry of Health.
"We urge the government to immediately withdraw this ill motivated case. Release Rozina unconditionally and bring the perpetrators to justice by investigating the torture incident," reads the statement.
The statement also said everyone, including civil society, hoped she would be granted bail on Thursday, "considering the sensitivity of the situation, the citizen's right to bail and the question of justice, but Sunday has been fixed for the order. The court's delay in deciding on bail has left us frustrated and outraged."
Referring to every bailable clause in the case against her, they said if the bail had been granted, there would not have been any complication in the next hearing of the case.
The statement also reads that the arrest of journalist Rozina in a fabricated allegation by the Ministry of Health provoked strong protests and reactions at home and abroad. The arrest has been described as undesirable by the journalist community, civil society, and even at the responsible level of the government, embarrassing the government. The United Nations has also expressed concern about the arrest and reports have been published in leading foreign newspapers questioning the image of the country and the government support for independent journalism, freedom of expression and democracy.
The speakers were educationist Sirajul Islam Chowdhury, former caretaker government advisers Wahiduddin Mahmud, Sultana Kamal, Hafiz Uddin Khan, Rasheda K Chowdhury, Hossain Zillur Rahman, economist Debapriya Bhattacharya, human rights activist and former director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hamida Hossain, Gonoshastho Kendra Trustee Jafrullah Chowdhury, Bangladesh Supreme Court lawyers Shahdin Malik, ZI Khan Panna, and Sara Hossain, coordinator of Nijera Kari, Khushi Kabir, editor of Sujan, Badiul Alam Majumder, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Professors Ali Riaz, and Swapan Adnan, and the executive director of ALRD, Shamsul Huda.
Academics included CR Abrar, Asif Nazrul, Geeti Ara Nasreen, Robayet Ferdous, Samina Lutfa, Tanzim Uddin Khan, Shahnaz Huda, Sumaiya Khair, Jobaida Nasrin, Kazi Maruful Islam, Gobind Chakraborty from Dhaka University, Saeed Ferdous, Nasrin Khandaker from Jahangirnagar University, and Saima Khatun, Maidul Islam, and Sadaf Noor from Chittagong University, and researchers Meghna Guhathakurta and Nova Ahmed.
Others were photographers Shahidul Alam, Parveen Hasan, Firdaus Azim, Akmal Hossain, Asia Society of Bangladesh President, Mahfuza Khanam, human rights activists Sharmin Murshid, Shirin Pa Haque, Sanjeev Drong, Pallab Chakma, Fastina Perera, Arup Rahi, Muktashree Chakma, Rehnuma Ahmed, Ilira Dewan, Subrata Chowdhury, Ijazul Islam, Hana Shams Ahmed, Rezaur Rahman and Salma Ali, Selim Jahan, Shamim Azad, Bina de Costa, Abu Saeed Khan, Tabarak Hossain, Parsa Sajid, Lubna Maryam, Nayla Z Khan, Saidia Gulrukh, Fauzia Khandaker, Kazi Sufia Akhter, Sushmita Pritha, Philip Gain, Rezanur Rahman, Kanak Chakma, Mahbubur Rahman, Tayeba Begum, Shimul Saha, Kamar Ahmed, Sara Afrin, Nasimun Ara Haque, Rozina Begum, and Ahmed Kabir Kishore.
On Friday, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen told CNN in a live interview, "Bangladesh's judiciary is quite independent. Rozina will get fair treatment and judgment. We do not want anyone to suffer. We do not want to talk about the issue when legal procedures are going on."
Dr Momen on Thursday said that what happened to journalist Rozina Islam is very regrettable.
Meanwhile, Barishal University Teachers' Association has expressed concerns about the harassment, and physical and mental torture of Rozina Islam and condemned such an incident inside the secretariat.
The association also demanded a fair investigation of the incident and punishment of the accused.
"A journalist was mentally and physically abused and tortured for a long time in the highest administrative office, the secretariat, which is a manifestation of unprofessional behaviour. It gives a wrong message to people at home and abroad about Bangladesh and the existing freedom of media it has," reads the statement issued by the association.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir on Friday also said that the harassment and assault on Rozina were pre-planned like the murder of journalist couple Sagar Sarwar and Mehrun Runi.
"It is not an isolated incident. Rozina has always published reports on the government's corruption and irregularities. Like the Sagar-Runi murder, it is a pre-planned incident," he added.
Fakhrul also said the incumbent government has taken away the freedom of the press under the guise of democracy.
He went on to say, "Unfortunately, the media in our country seldom publish reports on oppression being inflicted on us. The ruling party owns most of the media outlets."
The BNP leader demanded the immediate release of all jailed journalists, including Rozina Islam.
Fakhrul also urged journalists not to bow down to greed, to be united and to speak out against injustices.
Journalists have continued their protests against the harassment and imprisonment of Rozina Islam for the fifth consecutive day.
On Friday, they held a protest rally at the Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU) premises and demanded the immediate release of Rozina and punishment of the offenders.
Addressing the rally, senior journalist Bazlu Manik said that Rozina has been a victim of a criminal offence and her family should file a lawsuit. After myriad corruption, the government has now turned to suppressing journalists.
Shahnaz Sharmin, a senior journalist, said the act under which Rozina was sued cannot be applied to journalists as they have the right to collect information.
Shafiqul Islam Kajal, who was imprisoned under the Digital Security Act, said Rozina Islam has been languishing in jail for her journalism against corruption, for the sake of her countrymen. Journalists are worried about who the next victim will be.
Another senior journalist, Siddiqur Rahman, said the bureaucrats have now brought journalists and the government into confrontation.
Nothing happens to officials who steal. "Is it a crime committed by journalists to write against such corruption?" he asked.
Dhaka Union of Journalists General Secretary, Shahidul Islam, said, "All kinds of black laws against journalism should be repealed. Otherwise, this ongoing movement will continue."
DRU General Secretary Mashiur Rahman said, "If the government does not grant bail to Rozina Islam next Sunday, all journalists will start a tougher movement."
DRU vice president Osman Gani Babul presided over the programme while its executive member, Mir Mohammad Jasim, a staff correspondent of The Business Standard, moderated it.
The journalists' organisation is going to hold a meeting in this regard tomorrow and decide on the next course of action.
Rozina Islam was detained by Health Services Division officials inside the secretariat on Monday afternoon, charged with removing government documents. She was harassed and confined there for more than five hours.
Later, she was sued in a case under the Official Secrets Act the same night. Later, a Dhaka court sent her to jail.
A bail petition was filed on behalf of Rozina. The court heard the petition on Thursday and set Sunday for delivering its order.