Bangladesh opposition website shut down ahead of election

Posters of the ruling Awami League's candidates hanging over a street in Dhaka last Friday. Bangladesh goes to the polls on Dec 30.
Posters of the ruling Awami League's candidates hanging over a street in Dhaka last Friday. Bangladesh goes to the polls on Dec 30.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Party claims govt shut it down, along with 54 news portals for purported security reasons

DHAKA • Bangladesh's main opposition's website has been shut down, the party said yesterday, amid accusation that the government is muzzling dissent ahead of next week's general election.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) said the authorities had closed the site since last week, when they shut 54 news portals and websites for what they claimed were security reasons.

"We've written to the Election Commission to open the website. But it has not been opened yet," BNP spokesman Nazrul Islam Khan told Agence France-Presse.

The shutdown has hit the party's election campaign just days before the Dec 30 polls.

"We cannot communicate with our supporters," he said.

The BNP is part of the opposition National Unity Front alliance, which is contesting the polls after boycotting the 2014 election.

It has emerged as the main challenger to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's bid for a record fourth term in office.

Ms Hasina's government has been accused by civil society and rights groups of drifting towards authoritarianism, silencing dissent and the press by using an onerous digital-security law.

 
 
 

At least six people have been killed in election campaign clashes between supporters of Ms Hasina's ruling Awami League and the BNP, whose incarcerated veteran leader Khaleda Zia was last month handed another stiff jail term.

The Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) could not confirm whether the BNP website was among the 54 sites it blocked last week. But commission chairman Jahurul Haque accused the website of bad taste.

"It is obscene and indecent," he said.

In an e-mail to the Election Commission, the BTRC, however, said the website was closed for containing "outlawed" materials following orders from two intelligence agencies, according to a report by the online edition of the mass circulation Bengali daily Jugantor.

BNP spokesman Mr Khan rejected allegations that the website contained obscene materials.

Last week, the government blocked more than 50 websites and news portals for what it said were security reasons, prompting an outcry from rights advocates.

BTRC spokesman Zakir Khan said the websites were "spreading propaganda" and "destabilising the state".

A BNP spokesman has said that 18 of its online activists have been detained in recent months, including a former air force officer who was arrested last Thursday.

Human Rights Watch said the arrests and the crackdown on free speech, including widespread surveillance, contributed to "a widely described climate of fear" ahead of the election.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 23, 2018, with the headline 'Bangladesh opposition website shut down ahead of election'. Print Edition | Subscribe