The Bangladesh government blocked the country’s first online news portal for a few hours Monday, accusing the website of publishing “objectionable comments” in one news item, in a move that quickly ignited a social-media backlash.
Monirul Islam, news editor of bdnews24.com, said the action taken by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) came hours after the website published a report about Lt. Gen. Aziz Ahmed, a former director-general of the Border Guard Bangladesh, having been named the next army chief of staff.
“The BTRC decision has surprised us,” Islam told BenarNews. “We don’t know the reason for the move. We haven’t been informed about it.”
BRTC ordered all international internet gateway operators and mobile phone service providers to block the website starting at about 5:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. on Monday. The letter, signed by BRTC senior assistant director Touseef Shahriar, did not provide any reason for the order.
“Bdnews24.com added some objectionable comments in one of their news items. So, it was blocked for some time,” BTRC chairman Shahjahan Mahmood told BenarNews. “The site was reopened after they dropped the objectionable comments.”
Mahmood did not specify which news item contained the “objectionable comments,” but sources said that when the site was unblocked hours later, a few lines had been removed on the story about Ahmed’s appointment as army chief.
Bdnews24.com, which describes itself as the largest news publisher in the country with 10 million unique visitors and 100 million page views each month, quoted BTRC acting chief Jahururl Haque as saying that “government high-ups” had ordered the shutdown.
It said the brief blockage had affected a large, but unspecified number of its readers for hours.
It was not the first time that the government of the South Asian country had blocked websites.
In May 2017, BTRC blocked the Swedish Radio website after it had published a purported recording of an interview with a high-ranking officer of the police force Rapid Action Battalion. The interview allegedly described the elite unit’s violent methods in the nation of more than 163 million people.
A year earlier, in August 2016, the BTRC blocked 35 news websites without providing any reason.
For about 18 hours on June 1, the BTRC also blocked the website of the Daily Star, the country’s leading English daily.
Move angers social media users
Bdnews24.com subscribers protested the government’s sudden decision and started a hashtag campaign, free BDNEWS24.com.
Rakib Ahmed, a professor at Jahangirnagar University, ridiculed the government on his Facebook page over its move against the news website.
“You can’t block an established and renowned media house without explanation. This is unfair. People get involved with media outlets in many ways,” he said. “Learn to deal with criticism positively.”