Rozina Islam, less of a journalist, more of an operator-fixer

Rozina Islam, who was arrested while filming and removing secret documents at the Health Ministry office in Bangladesh, was on a mission to ferret out a secret file considered crucial by some corporates .

The 62-page file contained the Health Ministry’s decision about the clearance to three local companies to jointly produce Covid vaccines in collaboration with foreign principals. Many other companies had applied, at least two of them to jointly produce Chinese Covid vaccines, but only three of them were cleared.

“The content of this file would be of great value for the local companies which applied, especially those which had tied up with Chinese companies. Rozina was trying to get the file for one or more such clients,” said a top Health Ministry official, who questioned the journalist immediately after the police caught her filming the documents.

The official, however, was unwilling to be named but he made available to IANS a video file drawn from the CCTV footage that shows Rozina begging to be let off even if it meant giving an ‘muchlekha’ (undertaking) from her side.

The official said the only joint production deal completely cleared was the one involving Russia’s Sputnik and Bangladesh’s Incepta Pharma, which also owns the Channel I TV channel.

“Business rivals were trying to block the Incepta-Sputnik deal, especially local companies who had tied up with Chinese vaccine makers,” the official said, requesting anonymity, because he is not officially authorised to brief mediapersons.

“She is neither the heroine the civil society is making her out to be, nor the villain the government claimed her to be. She was just doing a job assigned to her by the corporates who paid her for obtaining secrets, which involved no journalism,” said a Bangladesh police investigator, again not willing to be named.

Protest rallies by civil society and media groups, backed by foreign rights bodies, have been held attacking the Bangladesh government for preventing the exposure of graft.

But the police official said that Rozina has obliged multiple corporate bosses before for a price and was once caught stealing documents from the Shipping Ministry.

Her husband Monirul Islam Mithu is a contractor in the Health Ministry and has executed orders worth 100 million taka ($ 3.2 million) by supplying Covid related equipment using three of his companies — One Construction, R.M. Enterprise and S.S. Network.

“He started getting the orders after Rozina started covering the Health Ministry,” the police official told IANS, adding: “Rozina along with her husband Mithu formed a triad with a former secretary in the Health Ministry and two lesser officials, but she started adverse reporting when a new secretary took charge recently and questioned some of her husband’s deals.”

Rozina is a senior reporter for the Bengali daily ‘Prothom Alo’, one of the two media properties of the TRANSCOM group which acquired Eskayef Pharmaceutical Limited (SK+F), a successor to world-renowned multinational pharmaceutical company, SmithKline & French (SK&F), USA.

TRANSCOM acquired this company in 1990 in the wake of the merger between SmithKline & French, USA, and Beecham. After the acquisition of SK&F by TRANSCOM, the new company was named Eskayef Pharmaceutical Limited and it has become one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in Bangladesh.

“Rapid business growth since its inception has propelled Eskayef to a position of eminence among the pharmaceutical companies operating in Bangladesh today,” claims the company’s website.