After initially announcing on the evening of 9 December that 58 websites were being blocked, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) rescinded the order the next morning only to reintroduce it that evening, albeit with the number of sites reduced from 58 to 54.
The information ministry accused the websites of spreading “anti-government propaganda and fake news” and said they were being blocked ahead of the election on “national security” grounds.
The list of blocked sites includes such well-known ones as risingbd.com, dhakatimes24.com and reportbd24.com. Some, such as bnpnews24.com, support the opposition. Officials warned that “similar shutdowns will continue against news portals that publish and circulate fake and baseless news.”
“It is completely unacceptable that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government is censoring many of Bangladesh’s news media with less than three weeks to go to an election that is vital for the functioning of its democracy,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “These sites must be unblocked at once for the sake of freedom of expression and journalistic pluralism, without which the election will have no legitimacy.”
The Rapid Action Battalion, an elite police unit, meanwhile arrested the editor of the Daily71 news website, Sheikh Riad Muhammad Noor, on 8 December for allegedly “posting seditious, false and baseless news” on social networks. He was placed in pre-trial detention under the controversial Digital Security Act on 10 December.
Bangladesh is ranked 146th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.