"I am being treated unfairly...I am being wronged for reporting on the health ministry."
Prothom Alo Senior Correspondent Rozina Islam was speaking in a firm voice to her fellows while she was being taken to jail after a Dhaka court turned down police's remand plea on Tuesday.
Investigative journalist Rozina, known for dozens of ground-breaking reports in her career, was charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act 1923.
In protest against her arrest and harassment in the health ministry, journalists boycotted a health ministry press conference on Tuesday and announced not to cover any programmes of the ministry until she is released.
Rozina Islam is known for her strong reportage of official corruption. She has recently made several investigative reports revealing corruptions in the health sector.
Civil society members joined journalists in protests on social media and demanded her immediate release.
Rozina was taken to Kashimpur Women's Central Jail in Gazipur Tuesday afternoon.
Monirul Islam, husband of Rozina, said, "Rozina's physical condition is not well. The authorities should take measures for her treatment."
Earlier, a Dhaka court sent Rozina Islam to jail after rejecting the 5-day remand prayer in a case filed against her under Bangladesh Penal Code and Official Secrets Act.
Rozina was kept confined at the health ministry for more than five hours on Monday before being handed over to police.
Later, she was shown arrested in the case on charges of spiriting away "important" documents.
The Sampadak Parishad (Editors' Council) demanded the unconditional release of the Prothom Alo reporter who was sent to jail under a British-era law, the Official Secrets Act.
In a statement, the editors' platform also expressed grave concern at the series of incidents and protested the six-hour harassment that Rozina endured while discharging her professional duties at the Secretariat, her overnight confinement in the police station, and subsequent imprisonment.
Noting that Rozina was sued under the Official Secrets Act 1923, the Editors' Council said filing a lawsuit against a journalist under a colonial British-era law manifests a negative attitude and an evil mentality to silence the voice of a newspaper.
"This is an attempt to curtail press freedom as well as a threat to the future of independent journalism and freedom of expression. In a democratic society, such despicable attempts threaten the existence of the press and challenge the profession," the editors observed.
Eleven eminent personalities have condemned the assault on Rozina by government officials at the Secretariat when she was collecting information from the health ministry.
In a statement, they also condemned the case filed against her over "stealing classified information".
"We hope the government will be considerate to withdraw the case filed against Rozina Islam and release her from jail."
Cultural personality and freedom fighter Nasiruddin Yousuff, journalist and political analyst Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, writer and historian Prof Muntassir Mamoon, writer-journalist Shahriar Kabir, media personality Ramendu Majumdar, Hasan Azizul Haque, Anupam Sen, Sarwar Ali, Mofidul Haque, Mamunur Rashid and Abdus Salim signed the statement issued on Tuesday.
The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also urged Bangladesh government to release Prothom Alo journalist Rozina Islam immediately.
In a statement, the CPJ on Monday called for an end to the police investigation against journalist Rozina Islam and arrest under the Official Secrets Act.
Meanwhile, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) on Tuesday in a Twitter post also condemned the harassment done to Rozina Islam.
"What is going on in #Bangladesh? One of the country's most respected women journalists is detained for hours. Hey, Health Ministry: journalism is not a crime! The world is watching," their Twitter handle wrote, sharing a post that mentioned Rozina's confinement.
The South Asian Women in Media (SAWM), a network of women journalists across South Asia, is deeply concerned at the harassment and arrest of senior journalist Rozina Islam by the authorities.
However, Health Minister Zahid Maleque claimed that the country would suffer if the confidential documents that the Prothom Alo Reporter allegedly photographed were leaked.
In the face of widespread criticism from various quarters over the arrest of Rozina, the minister made the above remark talking to reporters after an Ecnec meeting in the capital on Tuesday afternoon.
"The on-duty official shouted when he saw the woman capturing files, putting some in her bag, even concealing some on her body [under clothes]. Then, our female officials came and held her, asking why she was doing what she was doing. They took the papers and files from her possession," the minister explained.
A press conference was called at the Secretariat to explain the health ministry's stance on Rozina's arrest, but reporters boycotted the programme protesting the authorities' ill-treatment of Rozina on the previous day.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said, "Rozina Islam is well known at home and abroad for her contribution to investigative journalism. She has been faithfully fulfilling her responsibilities to bring out the truth to the public, particularly exposing corruptions in the health ministry during this Covid-19 pandemic that has resulted in this disgraceful event."
Amnesty International, Media Educators Network, a platform for all universities journalism teachers, Diplomatic Correspondent Association of Bangladesh, Broadcast Journalism Centre, National Human Rights Commission, Transparency International Bangladesh, Nari Sangbadik Kendra, Bangladesh Secretariat Reporters Forum, Bangladesh Health Reporters Forum, Dhaka Reporters' Unity, Crime Reporters Association Bangladesh, Economic Reporters Forum, Ain O Shalish Kendra, Manusher Jonno Foundation, Dhaka Union of Journalists, Naripokkho, Human Rights Forum Bangladesh and many more journalists and human rights organisations condemned the harassment and arrest of Rozina Islam.
Several organisations also will hold protests and stage human chains on Wednesday and Thursday until the release of Rozina. They threatened that they would go for tougher movement if she is not released within Thursday.
'The case isn't appropriate'
Ehsanul Haque Shomaji, the defence lawyer of Rozina Islam, told reporters that the case is not appropriate.
He said there was no description of the document mentioned in the first information report. The seizure list presented to the court showed that the documents were not seized from the accused but a government official himself presented those.
He also claimed that the allegations were defamatory and offensive.
Regarding the bail petition of Rozina, lawyer Ehsanul said there are no elements of section 3 in the statement.
"The other allegations are bailable according to the law. In this case, it is my client's right to get bail."
He said the court had left the bail issue unresolved and said verbally that a hearing would be held later. "We have verbally told the court that the bail hearing should be held on Thursday," Ehsanul added.
Her family members are also planning to sue the officials who allegedly tortured and confined Rozina for more than five hours in the Secretariat.
Who is Rozina Islam?
Working as senior reporter of The Daily Prothom Alo, the journalist is known for her strong reportage of corruption scandals involving ministers of the country.
Many of her stories have drawn attention recently to millions of dollars were spent in procuring emergency health equipment to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of her stories was about how urgent medical equipment that was important in treating patients were left at the Dhaka airport for months.
Rozina also wrote about the alleged bribes that were being offered to recruit doctors, and how the procurement at the health ministry was plagued with corruption.
For extraordinary efforts in investigative journalism, Rozina Islam bagged Canadian Awards for Excellence in Bangladeshi Journalism (2011), TIB Investigative Journalism Award (2015), Corruption Prevention Media Award by PIB & ACC (2014) and many more awards at home and abroad.
Rozina Islam made several investigative reports recently revealing corruption in the health sector.