Bangladesh: RSF condemns government blocking of 35 news sites
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Bangladeshi authorities to rescind the blocking of 35 news websites that the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) implemented today without giving any official reason. RSF also calls for the withdrawal of all charges against Probir Sikdar, the editor of the Daily Bangla 71 newspaper and the U71news.com website, who is accused of defaming government officials on Facebook in August 2015.
The 35 blocked news sites include such much-visited pro-opposition sites as Sheershanewsbd.com and AmardeshOnline, which have been in the government’s sights for several years. The authorities gave no reason and did not refer the matter to the courts before taking action.
“This wave of administrative blocking by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government represents a significant escalation in its policy of suppressing news reports and opinions critical of the government,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“Previously, the government seemed to think any reason – national security, public order, preventing the spread of hate messages or preventing messages that could incite violence – was legitimate. But now it no longer even bothers to explain its flagrant violations of freedom of information. We demand the lifting of this blocking, which flouts basic freedoms protected by Bangladesh’s constitution and the principle of proportionality that the authorities should always respect.”
Systematic suppression of online criticism
The government has in recent months been stepping up its offensives against opposition journalists, bloggers and social network commentators.
On the eve of today’s mass website blocking, a Dhaka court ordered that Sikdar should be tried on a charge of defaming Khandker Mosharraf Hossain, who is minister of local government and rural development and at the same time father-in-law of the prime minister’s daughter.
Sikdar is now facing possible imprisonment under the ICT Act over the message he posted after the police refused to register his complaint about a threat he had received on Facebook in August 2015. In the message, he said he held Hossain and the threat’s instigators responsible for anything that might happen to him.
Harassment of news websites and their journalists is not new in Bangladesh. Ekramul Haque, the editor of the Sheershanews.com site, has been persecuted for the past five years because of his investigative reporting on corruption and his criticism of the authorities.
The newspaper Amar Desh is also one of the government’s favourite targets. The authorities closed its print version in 2013 but it had managed to maintain its online versions until now.
List of the sites blocked by the BTRC:
www.rtnews24.com, www.haquekotha.com, www.amrabnp.com, www.real-timenews.com, www.bnation24.com, www.nationnewsbd.com, www.bhoreralap.com, www.banglapost24.com, www.dailytimes24.com, www.mynewsbd.com, www.livekhobor.com, www.rikhan.com, www.sheershanewsbd.com, www.natunerdak.com, www.sylhetvoice24.com, www.somoybangla.com, www.prothom-news.com, www.banglalatestnews.com, www.bdmonitor.net, www.bdupdatenews24.net, www.newsdaily24bd.com, www.amardeshonline.com, www.doinikamardesh.com, www.onnojogot24.com, www.amarbangladesh-online.com, www.desh-bd.net, www.crimebdnews24.com, www.natunsokal.com, www.sheershakhobor.com, www.onb24.com, www.dinkalonline.net, www.sarabangla.com, www.parstoday.com, www.weeklysonarbangla.net and www.24banglanewsblog.wordpress.com
Bangladesh is ranked 144th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.