RSF urges to restitute Rozina Islam’s passport

Rozina Islam

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has written a letter to foreign minister AK Abdul Momen, requesting him to take steps to restitute the passport of Prothom Alo journalist Rozina Islam and guarantee the protection of her human rights, with a particular focus on her right to freedom of movement.

The United States (US) embassy in Dhaka endorsed the letter through a message on its verified X (former Twitter) handle on Friday afternoon.

In its letter, the global press freedom watchdog noted the pressing situation faced by journalist and human rights defender Rozina Islam, who has been subjected to constant judicial harassment and had her passport apprehended. 

It called on the minister to do everything within his power to facilitate the return of her passport from judicial custody, for instance by formally intervening in the judicial proceeding on behalf of the foreign ministry, in accordance with Bangladeshi procedure, to request the judge to return the passport to comply with the international commitments of Bangladesh. 

The RSF also asked the foreign minister to take action to guarantee her right to a fair trial is respected, and to ensure all forms of judicial harassment against her immediately cease.

The letter noted that Rozina Islam is a prominent journalist associated with Prothom Alo. She is widely recognised  for her extensive coverage of human rights concerns in Bangladesh. Notably, she recently gained attention for her series of investigative reports shedding light on the government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The impactful journalism has earned her numerous accolades both on the national and international stage. 

In May 2020, Rozina Islam was detained for seven days following a complaint from a health ministry official who accused her of photographing official documents in the ministry's secretariat, ultimately initiating the ongoing investigation. She was eventually released but is still under investigation. 

As a condition to her bail, she was required to surrender her passport. This effectively imposed a travel ban on her and unlawfully restricted her right to freedom of movement, a right protected under Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bangladesh is a signatory.

In January 2022, a Dhaka court temporarily allowed the return of her passport for six months. However, she still remains obliged to request her passport from the court whenever she intends to travel abroad, which creates unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles and hampers her ability to exercise her basic rights.

Most recently, in August 2023, the court refused to return her passport, preventing her from attending the Global Investigative Journalism Network conference scheduled for September in Sweden.  Her activities as a journalist are therefore severely compromised and jeopardized as a consequence of the apprehension of her passport. 

Furthermore, Rozina Islam has been consistently summoned for court appearances, with many of these proceedings facing undue delays and rescheduling. These delays have raised concerns about the fairness of the legal process and its compliance with the right to a fair trial as guaranteed under Article 14 of the ICCPR.

It also noted that the treatment the journalist is being subjected to abusively impacts her rights, in particular the right to perform her activity as a journalist free from any undue interference.  

As the Bangladesh authorities did not respond favourably to RSF's previous appeals, the organisation has now turned to foreign minister AK Abdul Momen in the hope that he will take resolute action to ensure Rozina Islam's rights are respected.