By Ahammad Foyez
Bangladesh police said Wednesday they were dropping charges against a journalist who was accused of violating the Official Secrets Act by illegally photographing documents on the purchase of Chinese and Russian vaccines.
The Bangladesh police’s Detective Branch submitted its final report in July to the court in the case of Prothom Alo daily newspaper journalist Rozina Islam, saying investigators found no evidence she stole any state secrets, said Dhaka Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner (Prosecution) Jasim Uddin.
“The detective branch recently submitted the final report with the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court as it did not find any involvement of journalist Rozina Islam in any offense,” Jasim Uddin told BenarNews.
Rozina’s lawyer, Prasanta Karmakar, said the court was scheduled to hold a hearing on Nov. 15 to determine whether his client would be discharged.
“The investigator found nothing against my client. That’s why he sought for the charges to be dropped,” Prasanta told BenarNews.
“We are preparing for the next hearing as the court already sent a letter to the plaintiff in the case asking whether he has any objection,” the lawyer said, referring to the Health Ministry, which brought the case to court.
Md. Shibbir Ahmed Osmani, the ministry’s deputy secretary, confirmed he had received the letter.
“I have no personal issue with journalist Rozina Islam,” he told BenarNews. “I will take my decision in this regard after discussing with my superior authority.”
Rozina declined to comment to BenarNews.
She had been detained at the Health Ministry on May 17, 2021, and formally arrested a day later, for allegedly taking pictures of sensitive documents related to the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines from China and Russia.
The journalist’s sister, Sabina Yesmin Juli, has denied that Rozina took photographs while at the ministry.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Zahid Maleque had said the documents for the vaccine deals included non-disclosure clauses, but a lawyer for Rozina had accused the ministry of targeting her because she exposed alleged graft in the public health system.
International media advocacy and human rights groups condemned the arrest, saying Bangladesh’s government was cracking down on journalists doing critical reporting on the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and other policies.
Amid massive protests and reactions from local and international rights groups, Rozina was released on bail on May 23, 2021, after she surrendered her passport to court.
On Wednesday, a British rights group, ARTICLE 19, welcomed the police dropping charges against Rozina.
“The rights body … hopes that the learned court would accept the final probe report submitted by the authorities in the case and acquit Rozina of this vexatious case in order to ensure justice for her,” the group said in a statement.
The Official Secrets Act stipulates a maximum prison term of 14 years for anyone convicted under it.