Dhaka: A senior Bangladeshi woman journalist, known for her investigative reporting, was arrested on charges of violating a colonial-era official secrecy law, the police said on Tuesday, triggering protests by the rights groups and her colleagues.

Rozina Islam, a senior reporter of Bangla daily Prothom Alo, the largest daily newspaper based on circulation, was on Monday detained for nearly five hours by the Health Ministry officials for allegedly clicking a picture of a document with her cell phone without permission. She was later arrested by the police.

The ministry filed a case against her at around midnight under the 1923 Official Secrets Act while she spent her night under the police custody, the police said.

She was produced before a court here with a petition seeking her to be remanded in custody for five days, which the judge rejected and sent her to jail to await the routine legal procedures.

A prosecution lawyer told reporters that whether the allegation is true or false, a case has been filed which needed a procedure to be disposed of.

Rozina, who earned the reputation of being an investigative journalist, has in recent months published several reports exposing the health ministry’s alleged malpractices during the COVID-19 pandemic, drawing public attention.

The incident is unfortunate, Health Minister Zahid Maleque told TV channels without elaborating further, even as reporters boycotted a routine health ministry press conference protesting her arrest.

Health Ministry’s Public Relations Officer Maidul Islam Prodhan claimed that Rozima was also taking away some documents when the senior ministry officials challenged her and later called the woman police.

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Prothom Alo newspaper said that she had gone to the ministry for her professional duties, alleging that she was detained under duress for a long five hours and was physically and mentally harassed.

Bangladeshi journalist groups and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) demanded her release and expressed concerns about the case filed under a draconian colonial-era law that carries ridiculously harsh penalties.

Bangladesh police and authorities should recognise that Rozina Islam is a journalist whose work is a public service and should immediately drop the case against her and allow her to go free, the CPJ said in a statement.

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