Authorities in Bangladesh are violating the right to free speech by blocking access to online news portals, while also surveilling internet traffic and regulating news sites without sufficient legal protections, says a rights group.
New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that a number of popular news and investigative websites had been blocked in Bangladesh after criticizing the government or probing corruption allegations against officials.
“The Sheikh Hasina government in Bangladesh continues its march toward authoritarianism, willing only to allow praise, and shutting down criticism,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director. “These restrictions disregard the basic principles of free expression and suggest that the government has plenty to hide.”
In December 2019, the government announced that all domestic news sites would require government approval via the Home Ministry in order to be registered.
Previously, media outlets were asked to register with an independent Broadcast Commission, which was to include civil society members. That commission, however, was never formed.
Under Bangladesh’s 2018 Digital Security Act, journalists can face a lifetime behind bars for “propaganda against the nation and a 10-year sentence for content that “hurts religious sentiments or religious values” or “destroys communal harmony, or creates unrest or disorder,” HRW reported.
This, according to the group, has had a “chilling effect on free speech for anyone who might dare to criticize the ruling party and its leaders.”
In 2019, the government also required internet service providers to install Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) equipment, an advanced method of examining and managing network traffic that can be used to block or surveil internet traffic.
“Controlling access to information is one of the hallmark signs of an authoritarian government,” Adams said. “As the Bangladesh government increasingly stifles its civil society, it’s critical for the international community to press the government to uphold the basic principles of democracy, including a free press.”