The Bangladesh government has ordered the blocking of internet access to The Wire a day after it published an article on the role of the country’s military intelligence agency in the illegal pick-up and secret detention of the university academic Mubashar Hasan.
On Thursday, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) 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.
Shahriar confirmed to The Wire that he had sent the instruction following a request by one of Bangladesh’s law enforcement agencies but refused to provide any further details or explain why the website needed to be blocked.
“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 date of BTRC’s first instruction is not known. As of Saturday, many readers in Bangladesh said they were unable to access the site, though some said they were still able to as their internet providers had not yet blocked access.
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.