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May 19

Removal of internet ban in Bangladesh: A hollow victory?


It was a victory for the internet activism. The Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC), on Sunday, informedall International Internet Gateways (IIGs) of its decision to remove any ban on the upload speed. Previously, it had issueddirectives on the 16th of May to cut the upload speed by 75% in a supposed effort to cull illegal VoIP calls. The move had been widely seen as an effort to prevent the upload of content incriminating the government through exposing its daily undemocratic and discriminatory practices. 
So has the #InternetBlackout ended in Bangladesh?
Unfortunately, no. The government has still kept in place a ban on Youtube since the 17th of September 2012. They say that the dog’s tail can never be made straight, no matter how much butter you rub it with (adaptive translation of a Bangla proverb). As a bdnews24 report details, the government of Bangladesh is planning to apply ‘special technology’ to prevent display of ‘objectionable’ content on social networks used in the country, Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu said on Sunday. “This technology will help in keeping out offensive contents on Facebook,” he said. “So there will be no need to shut down these social networks.” He however, did not detail how the special technology would work. It is mentionable that the judicial probe committee formed to investigate the violence at Ramu last year recommended control over social websites like Facebook and Twitter. What one means by offensive content is unclear at this stage. Past history details that the information minister does not deem defamation of Islam to be offensive; rather pointing to those who aim to expose such defaming content as the offenders. Notable achievements of his ministry have been the closure of opposition media outlets such as Amardesh, Diganta Television and Islamic TV, all on absurd grounds of preventing ‘misinformation’. Say what you must, the announcement is a wound to internet freedom indeed.
Rubbing salt to the wound
It was a case of give and take. Take your upload speed. Now brace for a ban. The Daily Star has reported that the government has banned all kinds of demonstrations, including meetings and processions, across the country for the next one month. Home Minister MK Alamgir and LGRD and Cooperatives Minister Syed Ashraful Islam have provided varying explanations for the restriction. Alamgir says the ban has been imposed to maintain law and order and prevent subversive acts while Ashraf says it is for the sake of smooth relief and rehabilitation activities in the Cyclone Mahasen-ravaged districts.
Seeing through the web of deceit 
Before I give any comment, here is a bit of news to liven up campaigners for some time. All those campaigns on twitter, facebook and the streets are having an effect. Some big people have shaken up and started to get acquainted with the possibility of another official BAKSHAL. Sixteen newspaper editors have asked for the release of Daily Amar Desh acting editor Mahmudur Rahman, saying that his arrest and continued detention was a threat to the freedom of press. In a statement on Saturday, they also expressed concern about the closure of Amar Desh press and two TV stations. The statement said that both the Islamic TV and Diganta TV should be allowed to go on air and Amar Desh should be allowed to print and circulate. The editors who signed the statement were Daily Independent’s Mahbubul Alam, Samakal’s Golam Sarowar, Prothom Alo’s Motiur Rahman, New Age’s Nurul Kabir, Daily Today’s Riaz Uddin Ahmed, Kaler Kantha’s Imdadul Haque Milon, Daily Star’s Mahfuz Anam, Daily Sangbad’s acting editor Muniruzzaman and Manabjamin’s Motiur Rahman Chowdhury. The statement was also signed by – Daily Inqilab’s AMM Bahauddin, Naya Diganta’s Alamgir Mohiuddin, Financial Express’ AHM Moazzem Hossain, Bangladesh Pratidin’s Naem Nizam, New Nation’s Mostofa Kamal Majumder, Jugantar executive editor Saiful Alam and online news portal banglanews24.com’s Alamgir Hossain. This is a copy of their signed statement.
What can I say?
It is time we get united in facing the BAKSHAL at our doorsteps. The one month ban will give way to Ramadan, where the Awami League government believes devout Muslims will go to fast, both spiritually and physically, culminating in a weaker opposition to its autocratic rule. All eyes in the government seem to be focused on finishing this term. Few people understand what Hasina really wants to prove through all this hocus-pocus, especially when the whole wide world is widely watching. 
In anticipation of better days ahead.
Wallahu Aa’lam.  

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