The South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, expressed its concern over the arrest of the Prothom Alo senior correspondent Rozina Islam under the Official Secrets Act.
Rozina Islam was allegedly confined for over five hours at the Bangladesh Secretariat and harassed by health ministry officials, after which she fell ill, SAHR said in a post in the organisation's website on Wednesday.
SAHR called on Bangladesh authorities to provide necessary facilities for her safety and wellbeing in detention until released.
Rozina was accused of taking pictures of official documents containing important state information, which she has denied, and of committing offences under the Official Secrets Act 1923. SAHR has learned that Rozina had been reporting on corruption and mismanagement in the health sector for the past month.
Under international human rights law, journalists cannot be vilified for their work and for exercising their freedom of speech, the SAHR said; adding that "the Government of Bangladesh must stop intimidating journalists and media personnel for doing their duty and using vague definitions from deeply flawed acts to harass and impose restrictions on critical voices".
SAHR urged the Government of Bangladesh to immediately drop all charges against Rozina Islam, to release her from custody, and to hold a prompt and impartial inquiry into the harassment allegations and to take action against those responsible.
It further express its concerns regarding the use of the colonial-era Official Secrets Act and call upon the Bangladeshi government to urgently review this act which is in clear violation of the right to freedom of expression and guarantees of fair trial enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh and in international human rights law.