Leaders of different journalists associations on Saturday demanded unconditional release of Prothom Alo's senior correspondent Rozina Islam.
A meeting with three ministers has been scheduled for Sunday to discuss the issue, the journalist leaders told the media after a closed-door meeting held at the National Press Club in the capital.
Rezwanul Haque Raja, president of Broadcast Journalist Centre (BJC), said a delegation of journalists will meet Law Minister Anisul Huq, Information Minister Hasan Mahmud and Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader on Sunday.
He further said their internal meeting has been adjourned till Sunday, as they will declare the next move after monitoring the court order on Rozina's bail plea on the day.
The virtual hearing on bail plea of Rozina Islam ended on Thursday in the case filed by a health ministry official under the Official Secrets Act. The court set Sunday for passing an order.
The journalist leaders also expressed hope that Rozina Islam will be released before the said meetings.
Demanding Rozina's unconditional release, they warned that they will announce a tougher programme, if their demand is not met.
Kuddus Afrad, president of Dhaka Union of Journalists' (DUJ), said journalists in the country need a proper journalist protection act for safety.
Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, former president of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ), said the journalist members of all organisations will remain united on the issue of Rozina's release.
"A coordinated delegation will visit the ministers for the best interests of the country's journalists," he added.
Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, editor of The Daily Observer, also said some bureaucrats have brought the government and the media face to face over the issue of Rozina Islam. He hoped that everyone would move away from this position, and Rozina Islam would be released on Sunday following a court order.
Referring to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as a journalist-friendly leader, Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury said, "We want to take democracy and the country forward, we want to create an environment for free journalism. Our movement will continue. We will work not only to release Rozina, we will try together to remove the restrictions that are hindering the free media,"
Farida Yasmin, president of National Press Club; Mashiur Rahman Khan, general secretary of Dhaka Reporters Unity; Shakil Ahmed, secretary of the BJC; Saiful Alam, former president of National Press Club; Abdul Jalil Bhuiyan, former secretary general of the BFUJ; and Zakaria Kajal, former joint secretary general of the BFUJ, among other journalist leaders, were present at the conference.
Leaders of five associations of journalists including Dhaka Union of Journalists, BFUJ, National Press Club, Dhaka Reporters Unity, Broadcast Journalists Center and TV Camera Journalists Association were also present at the meeting.
Rozina Islam was detained by Health Services Division officials inside the Secretariat on 17 May afternoon for allegedly spiriting away government documents. She was harassed and confined there for more than five hours.
Later, she was sued in a case under the Official Secrets Act at the immediate night. Later, a Dhaka court sent her to jail.
On May 18, a magistrate court turned down the police department's request for a 5-day remand and instead sent her to jail.
A bail petition was filed on behalf of Rozina. The court heard the petition on Thursday and fixed Sunday for delivering its order.
Protests continue for the sixth day
Different Journalist, political and social organizations held a protest rally in front of the National Press Club and Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU) against harassment of Rozina.
Journalists gathered in front of the press club on Saturday morning and formed a human chain under the banner of the Dhaka Sub-Editors Council (DSEC). Leaders of different organizations including th eNational Press Club, Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ), Bangladesh Secretariat Reporters Forum (BSRF), Dhaka Union of Journalists (DUJ), and Bangladesh Photo Journalist Association's leaders attended the programme.
Ilias Khan, general secretary of National Press Club, Nurul Amin Rokon, general secretary of a BFUJ faction, Quddus Afrad, president of DUJ, Mamun Faraji, president of DSEC, Abul Hasan Hridoy, its general secretary and Motasim Billah, its former president, were present at the human chain.
Speakers at the human chain said a country's government cannot function properly if journalists cannot work properly. The government's failure has been exposed as it failed to take action against the corrupt bureaucrats.
They further demanded unconditional release of Rozina Islam, withdrawal of the false charges against her and trial of the corrupt Secretariat officials who had harassed her. Otherwise they threatened to continue their movement.
Meanwhile, agitated women journalists have been going on a symbolic hunger strike at the DRU premises demanding the unconditional release of Rozina Islam.
Prothom Alo Managing Editor Sajjad Sharif and Associate Editor Anisul Hoque expressed solidarity with the hunger strike.
DRU's Women's Affairs secretary Rita Nahar, who was on hunger strike, said, "A journalist had been termed a thief and jailed while media personnel across the country were working for the people at the risk of their lives. We want to make it clear that data collection is not a crime."
Shamima Dola, a journalist, said, "Rozina Islam has at least twenty reports on irregularities in the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS). No action was taken against any bureaucrat for his report, but action was taken against Rozina under an obsolete law."
Anisul Hoque, associate editor of Prothom Alo, said, "The entire journalistic community has suffered from the injustice and harassment that has befallen her. Rozina is just an occasion here. By protesting against these, I have come not only to release Rozina but also to establish the freedom of the entire press."
The Gonoforum has organised a human chain and demonstration in front of the National Press Club demanding the arrest of the perpetrators of the harassment of Rozina Islam and the repeal of the black law under which she was arrested.
Advocate Mohsin Rashid, Advocate Jaglul Haider Afrik, Major (Retd) Asaduzzaman and others addressed the rally under the chairmanship of Advocate Subrata Chowdhury.
Journalists' organisations and various social and political organisations in different parts of the country, including Dhaka, also organised human chains to protest against the harassment and torture of Rozina.
"Rozina has been imprisoned because she was fighting against corruption"
Journalist Rozina Islam has been taken prisoner because she was fighting against corruption, said Manjur Ahmed Chowdhury, chairman of the Center for Governance Studies (CGS), at a webinar titled "Freedom of the Media and Public Interest," organised by the Center for Governance Studies (CGS) on Saturday.
The CGS hosted the webinar in collaboration with UKAID and the Asia Foundation. The speakers present at the event called upon the journalists to unite for an independent media.
CGS Chairman Manjur Ahmed Chowdhury said, "Rozina Islam was fighting through investigative journalism, so she has now been arrested. Now the media workers should not only release her but also continue the war started by Rozina by continuously reporting against that corrupt clique including the officials of the health ministry."
Shyamal Dutta, editor of the Bhorer Kagoj, said, "The media is being identified as an enemy wherever there is a crisis of democracy in the world. Is the Election Commission, Human Rights organisations, judiciary, etc working well in the country today? No."
"There was no remand, but still the woman journalist was not granted bail on minor charges! She spent three days in jail without any trial! Is this a sign of an independent judiciary?" questioned Shyamal Dutta.
Shoeb Chowdhury, chairman of Editorial Board of The Asian Age, said, "What happened to Rozina Islam was nothing new, as journalists were being harassed whenever the government's interests were harmed."
He stressed on the consensus of the journalists to overcome this situation.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, executive director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), said, "When information is not available, it is not wrong for Rozina Islam to bring information secretly in the interest of the people. The public interest cannot be sustained by curtailing the freedom of the media and if the public interest does not survive, the government interest cannot survive."
Zahirul Alam, chief news editor of NTV, said, "Both the scope and capacity of investigative journalism in the country have been declining. The government has joined hands with various other organisations to form a kind of social alliance against journalism. The big question now is how long journalists will be able to work independently with their heads held high."
AP Bureau Chief Julhas Alam said, "This was the first and unprecedented use of the Official Secrets Act-1923 against journalists. Rozina Islam has mainly served the people by publishing report on the corruption of the health ministry."