B'desh Health Minister denies allegations of torture of journalist

By Sumi Khan

Dhaka, May 18 (IANS): The Health Minister of Bangladesh, Zahid Maleque, has denied allegations of torture of journalist Rozina Islam.

Maleque's remarks came amid criticism from different quarters over the arrest of Rozina Islam on the charge of ‘stealing government documents', and the filing of a case against the scribe under the Official Secrecy Act.

The Health Minister said, "We didn't confine Rozina for nine or five hours. She was handed over to the police after a confinement for half-an-hour. The Home Minister himself also knows about the matter. I don't have any idea whether she was tortured after being confined at the Health Ministry."

"Journalist Rozina Islam was not tortured physically. It was an undesirable incident. What she has done is totally wrong," Maleque added.

The minister said that the journalist entered the personal secretary's room without permission. She had removed some documents from the files which were related to the import of vaccines. She was even leaving with the government files. If the documents were published, it could have harmed the country's interest, he said.

"Those were state's secrets. She had done the wrong thing," Maleque maintained.

The Health Ministry convened a press conference on Tuesday morning to explain its position over the arrest of Rozina. But the Bangladesh Secretariat Reporters Forum (BSRF), an organisation of journalists working at the secretariat, boycotted the presser.

Later in the afternoon, the Health Minister replied to the queries of journalists after attending a meeting of ECNEC at Agargaon in the national capital.

Quoting Health Ministry officials, Maleque said Rozina had entered the room of the personal secretary to the Health Secretary on early Monday afternoon.

"A staff who was there at that time saw a person was taking photographs of a file and then putting some documents in her bag after removing them from the file. She also put some documents inside her dress. Just at that moment, the staff raised an alarm, following which our female officers came and asked her what she was up to. They then took the files and documents from her. In the meantime, the police were informed who came and took over the matter. They also took away her mobile phone and found many photos in it," Maleque said.

Rozina was confined for about five-and-a-half hours at the room of Md Saiful Islam Bhuiyan, PS to the Health Services Division Secretary on Monday afternoon. Later, she was taken to the Shahbagh police station at about 8:30 pm. A deputy secretary of the Health Services Division filed a case against her.

Rozina was sent to jail after a short hearing in the court of Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate Mohammad Jashim on Tuesday morning. The case against her has been filed under the Official Secrets Act.

Arifur Rahman, the inspector of Sardar Shahbagh police station, has petitioned the court for a five-day remand to question the journalist in police custody, which was denied by the court.

The next hearing is scheduled for Thursday (May 20), her lawyer Ehsanul Haque Shomaji told IANS.



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