When you are accused of committing an offence for violation of a law, the constitution and some other laws come to your protection so that you are ensured of fair treatment and justice.
But this core value of the rule of law has been infringed in the entire process from detention and filing case against journalist Rozina Islam, known for investigative reports exposing grafts in the administration.
As the court declined to hear her bail prayer, she landed in jail on Tuesday noon after 23 hours of her detention by health ministry officials at the secretariat, the administrative hub of the government.
She has been sued by the health ministry on charge of "taking snapshot of a health ministry's document" under the Official Secrets Act of 1923, a monster made by the colonial British rulers to muzzle the voice of a large number of newspapers that were opposing the Raj's policies and wrongdoings.
With the case against Rozina, the monster, asleep for decades in an independent Bangladesh, has been put to work against journalism when press freedom is already groaning under the brunt of the Digital Security Act.
The way Rozina has been treated by the health ministry officials and the police has generated a chilling effect on press freedom. Videos that went viral on social media say she was assaulted. Her sister and her husband alleged that she was physically tortured.
Thus, the constitutional provision, article 35 (5), that clearly says that no person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment has failed to protect Rozina.
The health ministry officials who allegedly manhandled her defied the Anti-Torture Act 2013 that makes violation of the article 35 (5) of the Constitution a criminal offence and punishable with jail terms. But this law, that makes both mental and physical torture a criminal offence, also could not protect her.
The case is no longer that of an individual, Rozina Islam, it also hurts the Fourth Estate as a whole by bulldozing the constitutional guarantee for freedom of the press.
The implications are much more ominous. The cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of Rozina has made journalists question their role and capacity for advocacy, maintaining transparency of information and unbiased reporting of news.
Journalists who expose grafts and anomalies in the administration including in the health ministry's works will now feel hesitant. They may fear being trapped by the aggrieved officials for their reports exposing the wrongdoings of bureaucrats.
In this digital era, a reporter's smartphone stores snapshots of important documents they think important to conduct their research and reports. If her reports on grafts and malpractices annoy any vested quarter, the quarter may confine the reporter and seize her mobile phone and accuse her of "taking snapshots of official documents" under the Official Secrets Act, or may plant a document marked "confidential" on her person to frame her. This may appear as a new tool to prevent journalists from unearthing the grafts in the administration. A similar malpractice has long been allegedly used by the police to frame people in drug cases. There are allegations of the police planting a gun on a person to justify a subsequent extrajudicial killing known as crossfire in police parlance.
If this is the case, then journalism will turn into nothing but a propaganda machine of the administration. Reporters will hold back from unearthing grafts and malpractices. News organisations will have to keep publishing the ministry's press release and handout. This can be labeled as any other work except journalism.
Muzzling the press, which is just a medium for the citizen's freedom of speech, will deny the people their right to know about the expenditure of their money by government officials. They will remain in the dark. Officials will be absolved of any accountability for their wrongdoings.
The Official Secrets Act is the best tool to create such a secretive situation.
The law is so vague as it does not define the word "secrets". If the officials want, they can make every document including the one for buying food grains or purchasing of vaccines as "confidential" and related to "national security."
Take note that the health ministry officials claimed that Rozina took snapshots of "secret document related to purchasing vaccines." And the health minister justified their actions by claiming that the country would suffer if the documents were made public.
It is beyond the wisdom of a reasonable person, how a deal on purchasing vaccines is a secret document related to "National Security." His ministry does not handle anything related to national defence and internal security.
Where the culture of secrecy in state functioning is already high, the abuse of the Official Secrets Act will make things worse.
News outlets, being the last resort for taxpayers to know how their money is being spent by the administration, will face the risk of publishing reports on the "confidential documents." Journalists may hesitate to ask uncomfortable questions to the powerful. Officials will keep on enjoying immunity on their wrongdoings.
Darkness will grow and corruption will thrive in such an atmosphere of secrecy, hurting the vitality of the economy. The ultimate losers will be the people who pay the officials' salary and other perks to run the administration and spend public money for the well being of the people.