Mumbai: In another example of clamp down on critical journalism, the Bangladesh government asked all International Internet Gateway (IIG) operators to block internet access to the Indian news portal The Wire in the country.
The latest move comes after The Wire published an article titled Bangladesh Academic Mubashar Hasan "Held by the Military Intelligence Agency".
Quoting security and political sources, The Wire reported that the Bangladesh’s military intelligence agency, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) picked up Hasan, who works as an assistant professor at North South University (NSU) in Dhaka, soon after he attended a meeting at the United Nations headquarters in the city on November 7.
This information, which contradicts pro-government media who have sought to portray Hasan as a ‘militant’ who went into hiding, confirms the fear widely held by his colleagues and friends that he had become another victim of the increasingly widespread practice in Bangladesh of “enforced disappearances”.
A day after the publication of this report, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) on Thursday e-mailed all International Internet Gateway (IIG) operators ordering them to “block the domain … https://thewire.in/.”
The instruction stated that this requirement was “urgent” and that “the commission will take necessary steps against those IIGs who will not comply with the instructions of BTRC.” (sic)
It asked the IIGs to “Please confirm execution.”
The email was written by Touseef Shahriar, the senior assistant director at the Systems & Services Division of BTRC, who confirmed to The Wire that he had sent the instruction following a request by one of Bangladesh’s law enforcement agencies.
“The requests come from law enforcing agencies. When the requests come then we take steps to block,” he said.
The e-mail suggests that BTRC had in the past sent a previous instruction to the IIGs to block The Wire website, but that some had failed to comply.
The article published on Wednesday would have been embarrassing for the Bangladesh government as it seeks to deny its involvement in the widespread practice of ‘enforced disappearances’ in Bangladesh since the Awami League government came to power despite significant evidence of the involvement of many different law enforcement authorities.
This week’s instruction is not the first time that BTRC has blocked news that exposes the government’s poor human rights record.
In May 2017, BTRC also blocked Swedish Radio’s website after it had published an article about a senior officer, belonging to the paramilitary organisation Rapid Action Battalion, admitting his organisation’s role in extra-judicial killings.
A year earlier, in August 2016, the BTRC also blocked 35 news websites without providing any reasons.
The blocking of the news websites comes at a time when the government is clamping down on critical journalism and dissenting voices, with the police arresting dozens of journalists and ordinary people for publishing commentary on Facebook or in newspapers critical of the government, prime minister or others connected to the ruling Awami League party.