UN chief's spokesman expresses concern over arrest of journalist in Bangladesh

·3-min read

Dhaka, May 19 (PTI) UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' spokesman has said investigative Bangladeshi reporter Rozina Islam's arrest is obviously 'something concerning” as journalists and rights groups on Wednesday staged protests in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country against her detention.

'It (the arrest) is, obviously, something that we are looking at. It is something that's concerning,' Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN chief Guterres, said in response to a question during a regular media briefing at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Tuesday.

Dujarric added that their position has been clear.

'Journalists need to be able to do their work free of any sort of harassment or physical threat anywhere around the world,' he said.

'And, obviously, that includes Bangladesh and every other country. I think we have seen the very important work that journalists all around the world have done during the pandemic, and they need to be able to continue that work, wherever they may work,' he said.

Rozina, a senior reporter of Bangla daily Prothom Alo, the largest daily newspaper based on circulation, was on Monday detained for over five hours by the Health Ministry officials for allegedly clicking a picture of a document with her cell phone without permission. She was later arrested by the police.

The ministry filed a case against her under the 1923 Official Secrets Act.

She was produced before a court here on Tuesday with a petition seeking her to be remanded in custody for five days, which the judge rejected and sent her to jail to await the routine legal procedures.

The judge said he would entertain the prosecution charge and the defence statements including her bail petition on Thursday.

Several legal experts and senior lawyers said they could not recall any instance when the 1923 Official Secrets Act was used against any journalist.

Journalists’ unions and different media platforms staged rallies including sit-in demonstrations for the third consecutive day on Wednesday in Dhaka and other districts, demanding Rozina's immediate release and punitive actions against the officials who 'harassed' her.

'Journalism is not crime,' read one of the placards carried by the newsmen in front of the National Press Club.

Road transport minister and ruling Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader urged journalists to keep patience. He said a case was filed in the court and if proved innocent the journalist concerned would get justice.

'I can just say in such an incident if there is any suspicion of creating a gap between the journalists and the government, then the government will surely try to remove it,' Law Minister Anisul Huq told private UNB news agency.

Finance Minister Mostafa Kamal told a media briefing that the 'health ministry could take appropriate step at the right time to settle the issue'.

Bangladeshi journalist groups and the Committee to Protect Journalists have demanded her release and expressed concerns about the case filed under a draconian colonial-era law that carries ridiculously harsh penalties. PTI AR ZH ZH

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