CPJ, rights groups call on Bangladesh to cease harassment of Rozina Islam in public letter
Mr. Asaduzzaman Khan, MP Minister of Home AffairsPeople’s Republic of Bangladeshminister@mha.gov.bd
Mr. Zahid Maleque, MPMinister of Health and Family WelfarePeople’s Republic of Bangladeshminister@mohfw.gov.bd
Dear Ministers Khan and Maleque,
We, the undersigned press freedom and human rights groups, write to seek your leadership in ensuring an immediate end to the harassment of Bangladeshi journalist and human rights defender Rozina Islam. Islam faces an ongoing investigation under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act and the penal code in apparent retaliation for merely exercising her right to freedom of expression through her reporting on alleged government corruption and irregularities in the public health sector at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. If formally charged and convicted under the Official Secrets Act, Islam faces up to 14 years in prison, or a death sentence. Islam was arbitrarily detained for seven days in May 2020, when a health ministry official filed the complaint accusing the journalist of taking photos of official documents in the ministry’s secretariat, leading to the ongoing investigation.
Since her release on bail, Islam has been routinely summoned for court appearances, many of which have been unduly delayed and rescheduled in violation of her right to a fair trial as guaranteed under Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bangladesh is a state party. In August 2021, the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit asked banks to provide transaction details of any accounts held by Islam, in an apparent move to further intimidate the journalist.
Islam continues to face unlawful restrictions on her right to freedom of movement in violation of Article 12 of the ICCPR. She was granted bail on the condition that she surrender her passport, imposing an effective travel ban despite the fact that there is no provision for conditional bail in the Code of Criminal Procedure. In January 2022, a Dhaka court temporarily permitted the return of her passport for six months. Since then, however, Islam has been obliged to request her passport from the court whenever she plans to travel abroad.
After 14 months of investigation, the detective branch of the Dhaka police submitted its final report to court in July 2022, and called for the case against Islam to be dropped due to lack of evidence. Seven months later, in January 2023, the health ministry official filed a naraji (no-confidence) petition against the detective branch’s report, in response to which the court directed the Police Bureau of Investigation to further investigate Islam. We are deeply disturbed by a government official’s use of a naraji petition to prolong the investigation of a journalist under a national security law, particularly given that police have failed to produce a charge sheet or present any concrete evidence indicating that she has committed a crime.
Islam’s work, for which she received the United States Department of State’s Anti-Corruption Champions Award in 2022, is a public service, not a crime, and should be protected under Sections 4 and 5 of the Disclosure of Public Interest Information (Protection) Act.
We urge the authorities to fully respect and protect the human rights of journalist and human rights defender Rozina Islam, including her right to a fair trial, and to immediately cease all forms of judicial harassment against her, facilitating the return of her passport from judicial custody, and ensuring that she is not subjected to further retaliation for her work.
Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network
Capital Punishment Justice Project
Coalition For Women In Journalism
Committee to Protect Journalists
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma
Free Media Movement
Front Line Defenders
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
International Federation of Journalists
International Women’s Media Foundation
Overseas Press Club of America
Pakistan Press Foundation
Reporters Without Borders
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
South Asian Journalists Association
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
CC: Mr. Anisul HaqMinister of Law, Justice, and ParliamentPeople’s Republic of Bangladeshsecretary@lawjusticediv.gov.bd
CC: Mr. A.K. Abdul Momen, MPMinister of Foreign AffairsPeople’s Republic of Bangladeshfm@mofa.gov.bd