From the National Press Club to civil society platforms to social media – calls pour in everywhere to release investigative journalist Rozina Islam as the United Nations Wednesday also added its voice to the concern about the journalist's detention.
Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, at a media briefing on Tuesday said, "We have seen media reports about the arrest of the Bangladeshi journalist. It is something that is concerning."
Rozina Islam, a senior reporter of Prothom Alo, was detained on Monday and later shown arrest under the Official Secrets Act. Police produced the journalist before a Dhaka court Tuesday, and the court sent her to jail rejecting a bail plea.
Before her formal detention, Rozina was confined for five hours at the health ministry where she reportedly was tortured physically and mentally. While being taken to police custody, the journalist told her agitating fellows that the ministry framed her as she wrote several scathing stories on the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
UN official Stephane Dujarric at the briefing said, "I think we have seen the very important works that journalists have done around the world during the pandemic. And they need to be able to continue that work wherever it is."
In the meantime, Amnesty International's South Asia Campaigner Saad Hammadi said, "The prosecution of Rozina Islam 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.
"Information about how the government is procuring Covid-19 vaccines is in the public interest and should not be hidden behind national security locks."
Besides, leaders of the United States National Press Club and the National Press Club Journalism Institute condemned the arrest of Rozina.
United States National Press Club President Lisa Nicole Matthews and NPC Journalism Institute President Angela Greiling Keane said that at a time of international crisis, it is more important than ever to have independent watchdog reporters looking out for the public interest.
They said 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.
US's Jefferson Fellow journalists in Bangladesh also expressed profound shock and protested strongly the assault, confinement and subsequent arrest of Rozina Islam.
They said detaining Rozina for around five hours and abusing her physically in the secretariat during discharging of her professional duty Monday went against the spirit of free press and was tantamount to an attempt to muzzle critical journalism in Bangladesh.
They demanded immediate release of Rozina, withdrawal of the case and punishment to those involved with assaulting her.
Jefferson Fellow journalists in Bangladesh include Daily Star Editor Mahfuz Anam, New Age Editor Nurul Kabir, senior journalists Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul, Shahed Siddique and M Azizur Rahman.
"Wouldn't return home until she is free"
Journalists' leaders and several journalists' associations Wednesday announced that protests against the arrest of Rozina will continue until she is released without any condition.
The agitating journalists on the Dhaka Reporters' Unity also chanted slogans against the corrupt health officials.
Organizations of working journalists including the Bangladesh Secretariat Reporters Forum, Law Reporters Forum, Crime Reporters Association of Bangladesh, and Dhaka Union of Journalists (DUJ) joined the protests.
During the protest, Prothom Alo Associate Editor Anisul Haque said journalists from all over the country have united to demand withdrawal of the case against Rozina.
On the Jatiya Press Club premises, different journalists' organizations also staged demonstrations Wednesday. Those include Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalist (BFUJ), Bangladesh Secretariat Reporters Forum (BSRF), Dhaka Union of Journalists (DUJ), Bangladesh Photo Journalists' Association, Barisal Divisional Journalists' Association (BDJA), Faridpur Journalist Foundation, Dhaka (FJF), Shariatpur Journalists' Association (SJA) and Rangpur Divisional Journalists' Association (RDJA).
TBS district correspondents also reported similar protests in the district headquarters.
"The misunderstanding could have been averted"
Ruling Awami League General Secretary and Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said, "If the journalist is innocent, she will be released."
Quader said if someone responsible at the ministry had briefed journalists on the day of the incident, such misunderstanding would not emerge.
Information Minister Hasan Mahmud said, "We will surely ensure that journalist Rozina Islam gets justice. If there is any misconduct of the health ministry, it will also be taken out. '
Law, justice and parliamentary affairs minister Anisul Huq said Rozina Islam will get justice for sure.
"I want to say one thing, the government will try to dispel any such matter, which can create a detachment with the journalists. The hearing for her (Rozina) bail plea will probably be heard on Thursday. The court will surely look into it and consider all the aspects," he said.
The health ministry case accusing Rozina of stealing documents was transferred to the Detective Branch (DB) of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Wednesday. Her family members told The Business Standard that they will appeal before the court again on Thursday for her bail.
Not ministry, NHRC urged to carry out inquiry
Sixty-seven women and human rights and development alliance Samajik Protirodh Committee termed the complaints, arrest and detention of Rozina a conspiracy to stop her unearthing the grafts at the ministry.
The alliance also urged the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to form an impartial probe committee to look into the physical assault allegations by Rozina's family instead of letting the health ministry investigate.
The South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, also expressed concern over the arrest of Rozina Islam. SAHR urges the government of Bangladesh to immediately drop all charges against her, to release her, and to hold a prompt and impartial inquiry into the harassment allegations.
In the meantime, terming the torture on Rozina Islam as "sexual harassment" and "criminal offense", five human rights organisations and womens rights bodies said they are ready to fight the legal battle on behalf of Rozina Islam.
Manusher Jonno Foundation, Bangladesh Women's Lawyers Association, Naripokkho, Ain o Shalish Kendra and Blast made the announcement at a virtual press conference Wednesday.
They also said officials who tortured and harassed Rozina should be accused with charges.
In a statement Wednesday signed by 100 teachers, the University Teachers' Network, a platform for private and public university teachers, also protested the harassment and arrest of Rozina Islam.