Bangladesh journalist critical of COVID-19 response granted bail

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A leading Bangladesh journalist critical of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was granted bail on Sunday, after her detention sparked days of nationwide protests.

Rozina Islam, 42, an investigative reporter for the country’s largest Bengali daily Prothom Alo, was arrested by police Monday under the Official Secrets Act.

She was later charged with stealing health ministry documents.

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Islam was granted bail after being ordered to surrender her passport and pay a bail bond of 5,000 taka ($60) by the chief metropolitan magistrate of the capital Dhaka, her lawyer told reporters.

“We did not oppose her ad interim bail provided she submits her passport,” Dhaka’s chief prosecutor Abdullah Abu told AFP.

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The passport submission was to prevent her from leaving the country, he said, adding that Islam was expected to be released from detention later Sunday.

Journalist unions and advocacy groups said Islam was detained for her stories, which included allegations that urgently needed medical equipment was left at Dhaka airport for months, and that bribes had been offered to recruit doctors.

Before her formal detention, Islam had spent five hours at the health ministry, according to a ministry complaint seen by AFP.

Her detention triggered nationwide protests by thousands of journalists as well as political and civil rights activists.

Rights groups say a crackdown on the media has grown during the coronavirus crisis.

The general secretary of Bangladesh’s National Press Club welcomed the court’s bail decision but called for the case against her to be dropped.

“She has been asked to submit her passport, which is a curb on her freedom of movement,” Elias Khan told AFP.

“We have demanded that all the cases against her are withdrawn immediately... Bangladesh journalists still operate in a climate of fear.”

Bangladesh has reported nearly 800,000 coronavirus infections and more than 12,300 deaths so far, but experts say the actual numbers are likely to be much higher.

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