On December 13, BFJU gave the government a 48-hour ultimatum to unblock the news sites
While some people assumed a recent ban on 54 news sites was government interference in media, the government has said the websites were shut down due to national security concerns based on an intelligence report.
On December 13, the Bangladesh Federal Journalists Union (BFJU) and a section of the Dhaka Journalists Union (DJU) gave the government a 48-hour ultimatum to unblock the news sites.
While staging a demonstration in front of the National Press Club, in Dhaka, they claimed the government’s decision was nothing but interference in the media; and threatened to wage tougher political movements if their demands remained unfulfilled.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said that the websites were harmful for national security since they spread propaganda and indecent content.
“The websites were blocked due to national security concerns based on an intelligence report given by Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the National Telecommunication Monitoring Centre NTMC),” the minister told the Dhaka Tribune.
“We have been having discussions for further action against the websites,” he said.
However, the minister did not mention a specific allegation against specific content or the news site.
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Meanwhile, the journalists’ leaders claimed the government initiative was an attempt to shut down media in the country, and demanded the ban on the sites be lifted within two days.
BFJU President Ruhul Amin Gazi said: “If the government does not lift the ban on the websites within 48 hours, a greater course of action will be declared.”
While talking to the Dhaka Tribune, he said that 54 organizations, collectively, cannot make any mistake and the government did not explain the exact reasons behind blocking them.
“If any news site does anything wrong or if any content seems to be manipulated, the government has to explain that before the nation. We do not know which content was anti-state or anti-government, and nobody knows. However, the government has widely blocked the news sites,” journalist leader Ruhul said.
“We are not in favour of yellow journalism, neither are we in support of shutting down news sites. If any organization does anything illegal, action should be taken accordingly,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), on December 9, sent letters to International Internet Gateway (IIG) operators and Internet Service Providers (ISP) to restrict access to 58 news sites.
Following the letter, the news sites were found unavailable from the morning of December 10.
On December 11, BTRC reopened four news portals—poriborton.com, priyo.com, risingbd.com and dhakatimes24.com— and kept the other sites blocked.
Dhaka Tribune also contacted NTMC Director Brig Gen Ziaul Ahsan and RAB Director (Legal and Media Wing) Mohammad Mufti Mahmud Khan, for comment, but was unable to reach them by phone.
BTRC acting chairman Md Jahurul Haque—also the vice chairman of the commission—refused to comment, saying he had been moved away from BTRC, and was currently working for the Bangabandhu Satellite.
BTRC Senior Assistant Director (Media and Communication wing) Md Zakir Hossain Khan said: “The concerned authorities asked us to take steps against the 58 websites. We just executed the order as a technical organization.”
“Four news sites were mistakenly included in the list, and upon receiving further instructions, we reopened them,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
When asked about the reason behind blocking the websites, he said the actions were taken as the websites appeared to be a threat to national security.
“Sometimes, some of these websites were responsible for humiliating the country’s president and prime minister. Whenever, such activities against someone— who is involved in running the country—are found, we take action according to the policy of the commission,” Zakir told the Dhaka Tribune.
Despite several attempts, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Media Advisor Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury was unavailable for his comment in this regard.