Law Minister Anisul Huq assured the Parliament on Sunday (February 25, 2024) that the government is dedicated to safeguarding press freedom and will not impose any restrictions on it. He highlighted upcoming legislation aimed at combating misinformation and fake news without infringing on media freedom. Addressing the Parliament in the absence of the State Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Mohammad Ali Arafat, Huq responded to concerns raised by Jatiya Party MP from Patuakhali, ABM Ruhul Amin Hawladar, regarding the spread of false news by online media outlets. Home Minister expresses hope for swift conclusion of BDR Carnage Case Hawladar questioned the necessity of a law to prohibit such practices, to which Minister Huq reaffirmed the constitutional guarantee of free speech and press freedom. “Law has to be made in that light and with due respect,” he said. He referenced the existing Cyber Security Act, indicating that it, along with forthcoming laws proposed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, aims to address the issue of misinformation responsibly. The government's approach is to prevent confusion and the spread of fake news through appropriate measures, not control, the Law Minister emphasized, ensuring that the press's freedom remains intact. Read more: Information Minister questions countries’ lack of concern when BBC office in India was searched
China was the biggest global jailer of journalists last year with more than 100 behind bars, according to a press freedom group, as President Xi Jinping’s government tightened control over society. Xi's government also was one of the biggest exporters of propaganda content, according to Reporters without Boarders. China ranked second to last on the group’s annual index of press freedom, behind only neighbor North Korea. The ruling Communist Party has tightened already strict controls on media in China, where all newspapers and broadcasters are state-owned. Websites and social media are required to enforce censorship that bans material that might spread opposition to one-party rule. Also Read: Chinese who reported on COVID to be released after 3 years Xi, China’s most powerful figure in decades, called during a 2016 meeting with journalists who had been awarded official prizes for them to adhere to “the correct orientation of public opinion." Xi is pursuing a “crusade against journalism,” Reporters Without Borders said in a report Wednesday. It called China's decline in press freedom “disastrous.” Beijing operates what is regarded as the world's most extensive system of internet controls. Its filters try to block the Chinese public from seeing websites abroad operated by news outlets, governments and human rights and other activist groups. Chinese journalists have been prosecuted on charges of spying, leaking national secrets and picking quarrels, a vague accusation used to jail dissidents. Others are subjected to surveillance, intimidation and harassment. Also Read: China's foreign minister makes rare visit to Myanmar border Journalist Dong Yuyu, who worked at a ruling party-affiliated newspaper and is a former Harvard University fellow, faces espionage charges after being detained for more than one year, his family said last week. In 2022, Chinese-born Australian journalist Cheng Lei was tried in China on national security charges but has yet to learn the verdict, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in March. Cheng worked for CGTN, the English-language state TV channel aimed at foreign audiences. She was detained in August 2019 and accused of sharing state secrets. In Hong Kong, the Communist Party forced a prominent newspaper, Apple Daily, to shut down as part of a crackdown on pro-democracy sentiment. Apple Daily's founder, Jimmy Lai, was convicted of fraud last year that his supporters said were politically motivated. Six other former executives of the newspaper pleaded guilty.
Bangladesh has ranked 163rd out of 180 nations, according to Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) World Press Freedom Index 2023. Bangladesh is behind both Pakistan and Afghanistan in this year’s index – with Pakistan ranking 150th and Afghanistan ranking 152nd. According to RSF: “The Digital Security Act (DSA) is one of the world’s most draconian laws for journalists. It permits searches and arrests without any form of warrant, violation of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources for arbitrary reasons… In this legislative environment, editors routinely censor themselves.” “Most of the leading private media are owned by a handful of big businessmen who have emerged during Bangladesh’s economic boom. They see their media outlets as tools for exercising influence and maximising profits, and they prioritise good relations with the government over the safeguard of editorial independence,” it adds. From previous year: B'desh slips 10 notches in RSF press freedom index The World Press Freedom Index’s analysis for Bangladesh further says: “In the past decade, radical Islamist groups have waged extremely violent campaigns that have led to journalists being murdered. These groups now use social media to track down journalists who defend secularism, the right to alternative opinions or religious freedom.” Asia, in general, did not fare well when it comes to press freedom. India ranked 161st and China ranked 179th in the World Press Freedom Index. Regarding India, the index’s observations are: “Modi has an army of supporters who track down all online reporting regarded as critical of the government and wage horrific harassment campaigns against the sources. Caught between these two forms of extreme pressure, many journalists are, in practice, forced to censor themselves.” Reporters Without Borders noted that India has seen a significant decline in press freedom in recent years, with increasing threats and attacks on journalists, while China remains “one of the world’s most repressive countries” when it comes to media freedom. Read More: Repeal DSA, demands TIB marking World Press Freedom Day “The same trend can be found in Bangladesh (163rd) and Cambodia (147th), where governmental persecution of independent media has intensified in the run-up to elections that are due to be held in the coming months,” it says. The top ten countries in the index, with the highest press freedom, are: Norway, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, Lithuania, Estonia, Portugal, and Timor-Leste. These countries have strong democratic institutions and robust legal frameworks that protect the freedom of the press and the right to information. The report highlights the need for governments to prioritize the protection of journalists and the promotion of press freedom as a fundamental human right. It also calls on the international community to take action to hold governments accountable for violating these rights and to support independent journalism around the world. Read More: Hasan trashes RSF report on press freedom as malicious & unacceptable
Information and Broadcasting Minister Hasan Mahmud on Wednesday came down heavily on the organisations like Amnesty International, RSF and TIB for what he said their biased reporting on human rights, press freedom and corruption in Bangladesh. “These organisations have lost their credibility because of their partiality against Bangladesh,” Hasan told the members of Overseas Correspondents Association Bangladesh (OCAB) in reply to a question. He said that the Bangladesh branch of Transparency International (TI) issues statements like a political party instead of any research on an issue. Also read:Hasan trashes RSF report on press freedom as malicious & unacceptable In support of his criticism the minister cited a couple of recent examples such as TIB’s statement against the railway minister on the ticketless travel by three of his relatives and allegation of corruption in the treatment of Covid-19 patients in Bangladesh. Hasan said TIB’s allegation of plundering about Tk 23,000 crore on Covid vaccines was baseless and a misreporting of what the health minister said. Turning to the Amnesty International (AI) the minister said it was silent when BNP launched the petrol bomb campaign against the government in the name of agitation. It, however, was vocal against the trial of the war criminals in Bangladesh. “This is how Amnesty International has lost its credibility here,” he observed. The minister once again rejected the latest press freedom index published by Paris-based RSF (Reporters Without Border) in which Bangladesh slipped 10 notches to 162 among the 180 countries of the world where the survey was done. How one can trust an organization which places Bangladesh behind even Afghanistan, not at all known for press freedom and security of journalists, he asked. Responding to another question Hasan said Bangladesh Press Council and Press Institute of Bangladesh (PIB) have been asked to prepare a data base of journalists in the country. This, he said, is aimed at identifying the genuine journalists so they get security in carrying out their work and keeping the job. When done the proposed data base will also leave out those who are not journalists at all. Hasan reiterated that the Digital Security Act (DSA) has been made for the overall security of the people from digital harassment and assaults on their dignity and privacy. “This is absolutely not against journalists,” he reaffirmed though admitting abuses in some cases. He said there have been some abuses of the law against journalists and the government acted to stop it. Also read: Info minister considers legal action against TIB for lies No case under the DSA can be filed now without permission from the police and no journalist can either be arrested in sweeping action, he said. “The interests of journalists are being protected,” he said. In his opening remarks Hasan highlighted the achievements of his ministry in safeguarding the interests of journalists and creation of an environment congenial to their work. He especially referred to the formation of Sangbadik Kallyan Trust by the order of the prime minister and distribution of about Tk 23 crore among media people since its start in 2014.
The national committee for prevention of violence against women-girls and social injustice at Bangladesh Mahila Parishad arranged an online discussion Tuesday on Constitution, Freedom of Media and Persecution of Journalist Rozina Islam. Chairperson of the national committee Barrister M. Amir-ul Islam moderated the meeting in presence of experts, advocates and the organization members. A written statement was presented by Adv. Masuda Rehana Begum, member of the national committee and Co-General Secretary of the Central Committee of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad. Citing the constitution, she said that the state must ensure an environment for the media and journalists to perform their duties independently and fearlessly. READ: Sept sees highest rape incidents since 2010: Mahila Parishad Initiatives will be taken to repeal various sections of the law which are considered to be against the existing civil rights to ensure media freedom and protection of journalists through laws, she added. Speakers at the meeting praised journalist Rozina Islam for her objective reports and fearless activities seeking truth. Expressing disappointment at the recent incident, they said it was shocking that Rozina did not get any reward from the government for her fearless reporting, and rather got harassed. Human rights activist Adv. Sultana Kamal said the people own this country. They have the right to live a corruption free life. Harassment of a journalist is not acceptable in any way. The social justice enshrined in the constitution must be ensured. READ: Bangladesh Mahila Parishad president Ayesha Khanam dies Farida Yasmin, president of the National Press Club, said journalists are being harassed in the name of searching allegedly stolen information. Journalists must be protected by law. Without freedom of the press, democracy and the state cannot move forward, she said.
World Press Freedom Index has placed Bangladesh in 152 this year. A total of 180 countries were still as always. Following Honduras, Bangladesh has secured its position with a score of 49.71 just before Turkey. Reporters Without Border – which is also known as Reporters sans frontières (RSF) – has ensured it on their web homepage on the last 20th April 2021. They mentioned the word “Tougher politics” while showing the reason for it. Besides, they added the consequences of the covid-19 pandemic. RSF also pointed the police and civilian violence against reporters. Thus, journalism got completely blocked or seriously impeded in 73 countries. It is just as devastating as coronavirus. World Press Freedom Index at a glance The Press Freedom Index is a yearly list for ranking of countries based on the freedom of journalism. An international non-Government organization named Reporters Without Border, shortly RSF, compile and publish the list. Since 2002, they have been releasing the list intending to safeguard the right to freedom of information. They mainly rank 180 countries based on the freedom of journalism. Read Why press freedom matters Survey Questionnaire RSF develops the index through a survey of 87 questionnaires following the 7 general criteria. 1. Pluralism (Opinions in the media space) 2. Media independence 3. environment and self-censorship 4. legislative framework 5. Transparency 6. Infrastructure 7. Abuses Read Prothom Alo senior reporter Rozina arrested under Official Secrets Act The survey questionnaire focuses on the legal framework for the media including- ➢ the consequences for press offenses ➢ the way Government regulates the media ➢ the extent of independence of the public media ➢ uninterruptible information flow over the Internet Read Rozina Islam: Journalism Vs the Colonial hangover of official secrecy Survey Respondents The survey respondents are the RSF’s partner organizations. They are 150 correspondents of 18 freedom of expression non-government organizations in five continents. A remarkable number of journalists, researchers, jurists, and human rights activists around the world also participate in this survey. Scoring RSF staffs monitor both the victims and the assailants of the press offenses to evaluate the final score. The victims are the journalists, netizens, and media assistants, while the violence may come from the state, armed militias, clandestine organizations, or pressure groups. RSF send the survey questionnaire translated into 20 languages to the corresponding countries. They assign a score on each country based on the answers given. Read: Top Bookstore Cafés in Dhaka: 6 Places Bringing Back the Joy of Reading 0 point is for the best while 100 points is for the worst. Accordingly, RSF has a colorful scoring map categorizing the press freedom status of countries. ➔ 0 to 15: Good (White) ➔ 15.01 to 25: Satisfactory (Yellow) ➔ 25.01 to 35: Problematic (Orange) ➔ 35.01 to 55: Difficult (Red) ➔ 55.01 to 100: Very Serious (Black) Read Freedom of speech threatened in the name of Digital Security: TIB World Press Freedom Index 2021 Toppers 1. Norway: Score → 6.72 2. Finland: Score → 6.99 3. Sweden: Score → 7.24 4. Denmark: Score → 8.57 5. Costa Rica: Score → 8.76 6. Netherlands: Score → 9.67 7. Jamaica: Score → 9.96 8. New Zealand: Score → 10.04 9. Portugal: Score → 10.11 10. Switzerland: Score → 10.55 Read Freedom of speech must not be undermined with false propaganda: PM Underneath World Press Freedom Index 2021 1. Eritrea: Score → 81.45 2. North Korea: Score → 81.28 3. Turkmenistan: Score → 80.03 4. China: Score → 78.72 5. Djibouti: Score → 78.62 6. Vietnam: Score → 78.46 7. Iran: Score → 72.70 8. Syria: Score → 70.63 9. Laos: Score → 70.56 10. Cuba: Score → 63.94 Read World Press Freedom Index: Bangladesh slips one place to 151st Bangladesh’s Whereabouts in World Press Freedom Index The number 152 in the crowd of 180 with a score of 49.71 basically represents the level of freedom available for Bangladeshi journalists. In the last 10 years, Bangladesh’s scenario is as follows: 1. 2011 Ranking 112 Score → 54 2. 2012 Ranking 129 Score → 57 3. 2013 Ranking 144 Score → 42.01 4. 2014 Ranking 146 Score → 42.58 5. 2015 Ranking 146 Score → 42.95 6. 2016 Ranking 144 Score → 45.94 7. 2017 Ranking 146 Score → 48.36 8. 2018 Ranking 146 Score → 48.62 9. 2019 Ranking 150 Score → 50.74 10. 2020 Ranking 151 Score → 49.37 Last year, the coronavirus disaster and accompanying lockdown led to an alarming growth in police and civilian violence towards newshounds. Some journalists, bloggers, and cartoonists had been additionally arrested and prosecuted for his or her reporting of the pandemic and its effect on society. Under the Digital Security Act 2018 “bad propaganda” is punishable via way of means of up to fourteen years in prison. As a result, self-censorship has reached unparalleled ranges due to the fact editors are justifiably reluctant to hazard imprisonment or their media outlet’s closure. Read: Watchdog: Media freedom has deteriorated during pandemic However, despite this violence, there is also a length of speedy improvement for Bangladesh’s media marketplace, with many retailers taking part in each profitability and affect an increasing marketplace. Over the beyond decade, big privately-owned Bangladeshi agencies have moved into the marketplace and lots of the countrywide media is now inside the palms of the most important company organizations inside the country. Final words Regardless of World Press Freedom Index criticism, the circulation of information demands unconditional independence. However, it is needless to say that professional reporting requires minimum ethics. Otherwise, the knowledge may go beyond authenticity. A journalist must handle the power given to him carefully. Similarly, every government and non-government entity should cooperate with them spontaneously. And that is when the general people can expect the truth. Read Future of journalism depends on adaptation, professionalism: Dr Arefin
Gonoforum President Dr Kamal Hossain on Saturday demanded the immediate resale of Prothom Alo journalist Rozina Islam from jail as he thinks she was implicated in a ‘false case’ by bureaucrats. “Where’s the barrier to granting bail to Rozina when the entire journalist community, political parties, human rights organisations and eminent citizens of the country are demanding her release?” he said. Dr Kamal said, “We demand that Rozina be freed immediately and we all are her guarantors.” Also read: Don’t judge Rozina issue emotionally: Info Minister to journalists He made the remarks in a written statement at a civic rally in front of the National Museum in the city’s Shahbagh area demanding the release of Rozina and annulment of the Official Secrets Act and the Digital Security Act. Gonoforum Joint general secretary Mostaq Ahmed read out the statement at the rally in favour of Dr Kamal. Dr Kamal said Rozina went to the Secretariat on May 17 to perform her professional responsibility. Also read: Rozina to get fair judgement: FM tells CNN As she published reports on massive corruption in the health ministry, the Gonoforum President said bureaucrats harassed her for five hours and handed her over to police by implicating her in a ‘false’ case. “It’s our question as to why journalist Rozina was confined to a room at the Secretariat till 8pm,” he said. Dr Kamal also demanded the government repeal the Official Secrets Act and Digital Security Act and ensure press freedom. Also read: Order on journalist Rozina Islam’s bail Sunday He urged all to get united to force the government to revoke all the ‘black’ laws and ‘restore’ people’s voting rights. Speaking at the rally, Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury voiced anger as a Dhaka court did not pass its order on a bail petition of Rozina in a bailable case on Thursday. He urged the journalists to get united putting behind their divisions to establish their rights and ensure press freedom. Also read: Drop all "oppressive charges" against Rozina: HRW Nagroik Oikay convener Mahmudur Rahman Manna, Dhaka University professor Asif Nazrul, chief coordinator of Ganosanghati Andolon Zonayed Saki, noted photographer Shahidul Alam and former Dhaka University Central Students' Union (Ducsu) vice president Nurul Haque Nur, among others, spoke at the programme.
Rozina Islam, a senior journalist at Bangladesh's most influential newspaper who was known for unearthing graft in the health sector, was probably feeling a sense of relief when she was entering the Secretariat on May 17 to get her second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. If only she knew that she would be the victim of another epidemic right at the heart of Bangladesh Civil Service, an epidemic caused by a virus which muzzles the freedom of the press through archaic and vague laws. Rozina Islam was held at the Secretariat for five hours before being handed over to the police. A case was filed against her by an official of the Health Ministry under the Official Secrets Act of 1923. The British Era law, a sleeping monster which was never used against journalists in independent Bangladesh, was revived suddenly against the 42-year old journalist. She is currently spending her days in Kashimpur Women’s Central Jail as a Dhaka court on Thursday fixed Sunday for passing an order on the bail petition filed by her lawyers. Read Don’t judge Rozina issue emotionally: Info Minister to journalists Colonial Inheritance of OSA The Indian Official Secrets Act, 1904 was enacted during the time of Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905. It was an amended and more stringent version of The Indian Official Secrets Act (Act XIV) of 1889, brought in at a time when a large number of powerful newspapers had emerged in several languages across India, and the Swadeshi movement was just starting to emerge.One of the main purposes of the Act was to muzzle the voices of nationalist publications. In April 1923, a newer version of the Official Secrets Act was notified. The Indian Official Secrets Act (Act No XIX of 1923) replaced the earlier Act and was extended to all matters of secrecy and confidentiality in governance in the country. The Official Secrets Act that Bangladesh inherited upon its own independence is the exact replica of the 1923 - curiously no government has ever felt the need to amend it in order to be more time-befitting The maximum punishment for an offence under OSA ranges from 14 years in prison all the way to death penalty. Read ‘Independent media’ spreading lies against govt: Quader What OSA deals with The law broadly deals with two aspects — spying or espionage, which is dealt with in Section 3 of the Act, and disclosure of other secret information of the government, which is dealt with in Section 5. The secret information can be any official code, password, sketch, plan, model, article, note, document or information, derived from a prohibited place. OSA and journalism in Bangladesh UNB talked to Mahmudul Haque, Lecturer of Mass Communication and Journalism at Begum Rokeya University and a former senior journalist himself, about the buzz surrounding OSA and the arrest of Rozina Islam. He takes the course, ‘Safety and Security of Journalists’, which is only available in a few universities of the country. Mahmudul said that this colonial era law has been put to work for the first time in Bangladesh as a new tool to muzzle the freedom of press in Bangladesh alongside DSA. He said that the incident delivered a message to the investigative journalists of the country in order to make them feel hesitant and fear being persecuted for their reports exposing corruption of the bureaucrats. “Like most of the laws enacted to curb the freedom of journalists in the country, this law is so vague that it doesn't define secrets,” he said. He feared that the use of OSA will deteriorate the status quo at a time where the culture of secrecy and self censorship among the journalists are already high. Read It's very regrettable; nothing to hide: FM about Rozina issue Faulty case Mahmudul said that any information derived from a ‘prohibited’ place for the purpose of spying will be considered as an offence under OSA. “The secretariat or the health ministry is not a prohibited place. Government itself provides ID’s to the journalists so that they can enter there to collect news,” he said. Besides, when this law was enacted more than a hundred years ago, the political and social context were very different than the current time, he continued. “It is highly unlikely that Rozina was collecting confidential state secrets as a foreign agent in an attempt to pass it over to enemies,” Mahmudul exclaimed. When asked about the health minister’s statement where he said Rozina took snapshots of "secret documents related to purchasing vaccines," Mahmudul said purchasing vaccines can never be a secret matter related to national security. “According to international laws, the people deserve to know about any bilateral treaty related to public health," he said. Apart from OSA, she was also charged under sections 379 and 411 of the penal code. "See, sections 379 and 411 deal with mere stealing and theft. This cannot coexist with OSA. So the entire process under which the FIR against her has been filed is faulty and I believe she will easily secure bail tomorrow." Read Watchdog: Media freedom has deteriorated during pandemic Can journalists be exempted from OSA There is a popular school of thought circulating in social media that OSA is only for government officials or defence personnels and journalists cannot be taken to trial under this act. When asked about this, Mahmudul said, "Unfortunately this is not the case." He cited section 3A (1) of the OSA which stated, "No person shall, except under the authority of a written permit granted by or on behalf of the Government, make any photograph, sketch, plan, model, note or representation of any kind of any prohibited place or of any other place or area, notified by the Government as a place or area with regard to which such restriction appears to [the Government] to be expedient in the interests of the security of Bangladesh or of any part of or object in any such place or area" So anybody, including journalists can be taken to court under OSA as the law explicitly mentions 'no persons'. Contradicts with RTI Right to Information Act 2009 (RTI Act) of Bangladesh has been promulgated recognising people's right to information as an inseparable part of the freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech. Although it was initially appreciated as a significant step towards ensuring public participation and transparency at the time of its enactment, the effectiveness of the RTI Act has been questioned over the subsequent decade. "The mere presence of OSA undermines the spirit of RTI and Article 39 of the constitution, which recognises freedoms of thought, conscience and speech as fundamental rights, " Mahmudul said. "Besides, the Public Interest Information Disclosure (Provide Protection) Act, 2011 (The Whistleblowers Act) provides protection and safeguards to whistleblowers if the information is true and related to public interest," he added. Laws like RTI and Public Interest Information Disclosure ACT will never be implemented properly as long as it coexists with laws like OSA and DSA, added Mahmudul. Read Future of journalism depends on adaptation, professionalism: Dr Arefin Example in Neighbouring country "Although OSA has never been used against any journalists in independent Bangladesh, there are a few instances of it in our neighbouring country India," said Mahmudul Haque. He said that Saikia, a journalist of the Financial Express of India was arrested in February 2015 in a similar case to Rozina where the police accused him of writing stories and analyses from documents allegedly stolen from the government. He was released on bail in May after spending 80 days in jail. Additional sessions judge Inder Jeet Singh who had discharged Saikia relied on a 1996 Supreme Court verdict in the case of Sama Alana Abdulla versus the State of Gujarat, Singh said that the test of whether a certain disclosure compromised a secret depended on whether an "official code'' or "password'' had been divulged in terms of Section 5 of the Act, The Times of India had reported during the time. The report stated that the court's liberal interpretation lessened the scope for misuse of the OSA by official machinery as it made a sharp distinction between a secret document or report dealing with day-to-day routine affairs and one containing information on the sensitive issue of national security. A Delhi court in 2009 greatly reduced the power of OSA in a case filed against the same journalist over disclosing cabinet notes by passing a verdict that a document merely labelled "secret" shall not render the journalist liable under the law. Read World Press Freedom Index and Retrogressive Bangladesh All Colonial Era law should be scrapped All the colonial era laws, not only the ones related to journalism, should be scrapped as they are against the spirit of our freedom, said Mahmudul Haque. While most of the laws adopted in the three successor states of the British Raj do date from the colonial era, some draw particular ire for their history of having been used by the colonisers specifically to suppress dissent among the colonised. One such example is the Contempt of Court Act, dating from 1926. It may be noted that in India and Pakistan, the Act was subsequently amended to fit in better with the changed context of the independent states. However Bangladesh still sticks with the 1926 text. The offence of sedition, included in the Penal Code of 1860, still gets a lot of traction in all three successor states of the British Empire in the Indian Subcontinent, despite no longer being in the books in England itself since 2009. The 1861 Police Act is also felt among activists to be more suited to maintaining control over a colonised population, as opposed to a civilian security force that is there to serve citizens in a democratic society. Some of the most widely used colonial era laws that are deemed to curb freedoms include contempt of court Mahmudul also said that Rozina and her family can file a case for wrongful confinement under the Penal Code against the concerned government officials if they believed she was being held at the secretariat against her will. Besides,they can also bring charges against concerned officials under the Penal Code, or the Women and Children Anti-Repression Act 2000, if she was physically tortured or harassed while being held, he said. Read Search is on for new leaders in journalism's upper echelons
Rozina Islam, a senior female journalist of Prothom Alo was arrested on the charge of attempting to illegally “collect sensitive government documents and taking photos of them” from the Secretariat on Monday. The Health Services Division filed a case against Rozina Islam with Shahbagh Police Station at night, said Harun ur Rashid, additional deputy commissioner (ADC) of Ramna Division of Dhaka Metropolitan Police. The journalist rejected all the allegations and said she had been harassed inside the Secretariat. Read Why press freedom matters ADC Rashid said the journalist had been sued under the Official Secrets Act and sections 379 and 411 of The Penal Code. Rozina was handed over to police around 9:45pm after being held at the Secretariat for over five hours. Maidul Islam Pradhan, senior information officer at the Health Ministry, claimed that she had entered the room of the Private Secretary to the Secretary of Health Services Division between 3pm and 3:30pm “without permission”. Read ‘Independent media’ spreading lies against govt: Quader “She took photos of sensitive documents. Some of those were recovered from her by the staff of the Health Ministry, including the PS, Additional Secretary of the Ministry and police Constable Mizanur Rahman,” he claimed. Health Secretary Lokman Hossain refused to speak to the media about the incident.
In 1991, a group of African newspaper journalists came together in the capital of Namibia to issue the Windhoek Declaration, which asserted that, “[t]he establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development.” The date of the Declaration's adoption, May 3, was subsequently declared as World Press Freedom Day, that was observed in Bangladesh as well as around the world this past week. Freedom of expression and access to factual and accurate information provided by independent media are foundational to democratic societies. Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of expression includes the right of all individuals “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Yet the outlook today for the rights of journalists around the world remains grim. Also read: Bangladesh drops one notch in World Press Freedom Index The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that in 2020, the number of journalists killed in retaliation for their reporting more than doubled, with Mexico and Afghanistan seeing the largest number of killings. According to CPJ, the number of journalists jailed for their reporting in 2020 reached its highest level since the organisation began keeping track, with China, Turkey, and Egypt imprisoning the most reporters last year. Unfortunately, the pandemic has provided a pretext for repressive governments to intensify pressure on independent media. It is exactly in that kind of hostile environment that the exercise of freedom of expression, especially by members of the press, becomes even more crucial in alerting the public to abuses and corruption and in countering dangerous misinformation and disinformation. At least 247 journalists were reportedly subjected to attacks, harassment, and intimidation in 2020. More than 900 cases were filed under the draconian Digital Security Act (DSA) with nearly 1,000 people charged and 353 detained – many of them journalists. The DSA continues to be used to harass and indefinitely detain journalists, activists and others, resulting in a chilling effect on expression of dissent. In such a situation, it is perhaps not surprising that Bangladesh has slipped one notch in this year's World Press Freedom Index, by Reporters Without Borders, also known as Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF). The country was ranked 152nd out of 180 countries while its position was 151st last year. Even within South Asia, a region that has grown particularly notable for its growing curbs on press freedom, Bangladesh ranked last, behind countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. Also read: CPJ names Shahidul Alam among four for Int’l Press Freedom Awards 2020 Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, journalists and media workers have been on the front lines to keep the public informed, at significant risk to their own health. Till April, 48 Bangladeshi journalists had died of the virus, one of the highest tallies in the world. Yet they must remain relentless in their quest to uncover the truth, for any society that fails to appreciate their worth can only be poorer for it.