Bangladesh’s High Court on Thursday ordered prominent photojournalist Shahidul Alam freed on bail, but exactly when he would be let out after 104 days in jail without charges was unclear, while prosecutors threatened to block his release through an appeal.
A two-judge bench granted Alam bail in the sixth attempt by his lawyers to secure his release, according to attorneys for the defense and prosecution. Authorities arrested him more than three months ago on suspicion of defaming the government in comments he made about student-led protests over road safety that rocked the country in August.
“I am happy. We get justice,” Rahnuma Ahmed, Alam’s wife, told BenarNews.
His release could come Sunday, Alam’s lawyer said, but the attorney general warned that the prosecution planned to appeal the ruling before the Supreme Court that same day.
“The court granted Shahidul bail mainly on health grounds. We are not happy,” Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told BenarNews.
“We will go to the appellate division of the Supreme Court against the bail order. We will file the order on Sunday,” he said.
And Alam, 63, could still face charges for allegedly spreading “false and fabricated” content online about the student protests, because the High Court on Thursday did not throw out the case against him. During the protests he posted streaming accounts about them via Facebook Live.
His arrest back on Aug. 5 and his ongoing incarceration without being charged angered human rights and press freedom advocacy groups at home and abroad, who demanded he be released from custody.
He was arrested that day after giving an interview to the Al Jazeera TV network about the protests, in which, prosecutors alleged in court, he had labeled Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government as being “unelected.”
“The court today granted bail to Shahidul Alam on the grounds that the Facebook links referred to in the first information report in support of the online defamation allegations against him did not match,” Barrister Sara Hossain, Alam’s defense lawyer, told BenarNews at the courthouse, referring to evidence presented in court that was based on a preliminary police report.
The court took her client’s poor health into account in its decision to grant Alam bail, Hossain said. His health has deteriorated during his time in custody, such as problems with his eyes, the lawyer said.
Although the High Court granted Alam bail on Thursday, the written bail order was not filed till 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, officials said. Alam can only be freed once the written order is delivered to the authorities at the jail where he is being held, they said.
Because Fridays and Saturdays are traditional weekend days on the Bangladeshi calendar, Alam will have to wait at the earliest till the next working day – Sunday – before the court order can be delivered and he can be freed from custody, Sara Hossain said.
Until Thursday’s ruling, different court panels had rejected Alam’s five previous attempts at bail that dragged out over weeks through delayed hearings.