Netizen Report: Bangladesh Bans Facebook and Chat Apps on ‘Security Grounds’

    Photo by Jeroen Bennink and reused here with Creative Commons license.

    Global Voices Advocacy’s Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

    The government of Bangladesh this week banned Facebook along with mobile chat apps Viber and WhatsApp in an apparent effort to maintain public order. When implementing the ban, the country’s Telecommunications Regulatory Commission mistakenly shut down the Internet altogether for roughly 75 minutes.

    "The government of Bangladesh this week banned Facebook along with mobile chat apps Viber and WhatsApp in an apparent effort to maintain public order."

    The ban may have been related to the November 18 shooting of an Italian priest visiting the country, an act for which ISIS claimed responsibility.

    A traffic jam in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo by Joisey Showaa on Flickr and reused here with Creative Commons license.

    A traffic jam in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo by Joisey Showaa on Flickr and reused here with Creative Commons license.

    Observers also believe the ban was intended to soften public reactions to recent war crimes trials. This week, Bangladesh’s Supreme Court upheld death sentences for two political leaders who were found guilty of genocide and rape that took place during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. Former minister Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, a leader of the powerful Jamaat-e-Islami religious party, face imminent execution. Their political supporters have spoken out against the ruling and vowed to stand in the way of the justice system.

    Tensions surrounding war crimes trials peaked in 2013, when secular pro-democracy groups demonstrated mass support for the execution of convicted war criminals. Protesters argued that impunity was so endemic in Bangladesh that this punishment was the only way to guarantee that leaders like Mujahid did not return to power. Among leaders of the protests were a group of progressive bloggers who have suffered severe consequences of persecution and vigilante violence, some of it fatal, ever since the protests. During this time, the Internet and social media have been key territories where these groups have both rallied support and weathered abuse from their adversaries.


    Commenting on the ban on social media platforms, Dhaka Police Commissioner Md Monirul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune: “The government ordered blocking the services on security grounds as criminals often use these services to plan and carry out subversive acts.” The Commission issued letters to local ISPs and telecommunication service providers, ordering them to carry out the block on November 17.

    User reports suggest that ISPs’ strategies for implementing the ban seem to be varied. Some have reported that Facebook is intermittently available on certain ISPs. Others say they are able to use Facebook’s chat function while other services appear to be suspended. In many cases, users are simply circumventing the ban.

    Death sentence rumored for Bassel Safadi

    Rumors surfaced last week that Syrian web developer Bassel Khartabil, a.k.a. Bassel Safadi, may have been secretly sentenced to death by Syrian military authorities. Bassel’s whereabouts have been unknown since he was taken from the Adra civilian prison to an unknown location in October 2015. Supporters are urging foreign governments and the U.N. to take action, among other things, by signing an online petition calling for his immediate release.

    GV member faces criminal charges in Morocco

    Global Voices writer and former Advox director Hisham Almiraat is facing criminal charges of “threatening the internal security of the State” in his native Morocco. Almiraat will face trial along with six other civil society advocates for what many media rights groups agree is an attempt by the Moroccan government to silence its critics. Although originally scheduled to begin on November 19, the trial has been postponed until January 27. The Global Voices community stands in solidarity with Hisham and has called on authorities to drop all charges against the seven defendants. Supporters are tweeting under the hashtag #Justice4Morocco and are invited to join our statement of support by clicking here.

    Kazakh activist detained for YouTube comments

    Kazakh activist Bolatbek Blyalov was detained for “inciting social discord” on November 9 over comments he made on YouTube regarding a range of issues, including Kazakh nationalism and the use of Kazakh and Russian languages in Kazakhstan. He is now the third activist to be arrested in the past month on similar charges.

    Hip-hop gets boot on Chinese streaming sites

    China’s Ministry of Culture is tightening its control over online music, encouraging online streaming sites to screen songs for inappropriate content before allowing music to go online. The ministry banned a list of 120 songs, many of them by hip-hop artists, in August from online distribution because they were “morally harmful,” according to Reuters. Online music platforms were told to begin submitting information about their music to officials from April 1 onwards.

    Reddit down in Turkey

    Turkey blocked access to Reddit on November 13, and then lifted the block a few days later without any explanation. The block, which appears to have been instituted at the DNS level, was enforced under the controversial Internet Law No. 5651, under which sites can be blocked without court authorization. It is unclear what might have triggered the block. Countries will sometimes block websites if those sites refuse to remove specific content from their networks. Reddit customarily publishes reports on content removal requests that it receives from governments on the ChillingEffects subreddit, but this page does not show any reports from the Turkish government.

    The rules of Reddit show that it is a fairly open platform, but there are some hard and fast rules. Screenshot courtesy of Reddit.

    The rules of Reddit show that it is a fairly open platform, but there are some hard and fast rules. Screenshot courtesy of Reddit. Access to Reddit was blocked in Turkey on Nov. 13, and then un-blocked, without any explanation.

    Censorship on Canadian gambling sites?

    The Canadian government may soon embark on its own foray into censorship. The Quebec government announced plans to order ISPs to block a list of unlicensed gambling websites, censuring the ISPs with fines up to $100,000 for a first-time offense for failure to comply. Local  free expression advocates are arguing that the government lacks the authority to regulate the Internet in this manner.

    Belgian court to Facebook: “No cookies for you!”

    Facebook received another harsh blow in Europe last week when a court in Belgium ruled that the social networking company cannot collect and store information about people in Belgian territory who do not have Facebook accounts. The company, whose international headquarters is located in Ireland, uses cookies to track people’s online activities. If Facebook doesn’t comply with the court ruling, the company could be fined with up to $270,000 per day. Facebook said that they will take steps in order to stop collecting online information about people in Belgium, but that they will also appeal the Brussels court ruling.

    Hong Kong’s Facebook user data requests rise

    A recent transparency report from Facebook shows that the Hong Kong government asked the company for many more users’ data than in previous periods. The numbers spiked sharply in the first half of 2015, following the Occupy Central protests from September to December 2014. Facebook recorded an 82 percent increase in the requests in 2015 compared to the second half of 2014, and over double the number of overall requests compared to the same period last year. The U.S. continues to be the country that makes the most requests for user data each year according to the report.

    Photo by Bhupinder Nayyar and used here with Creative Commons license.

    Photo by Bhupinder Nayyar and used here with Creative Commons license.

    Twitter’s Russian data dilemma

    Russian authorities are now seeking to require that Twitter store Russian users’ data on servers located in Russia. This comes with the reversal of Russian media watchdog Roscomnadzor’s data localization law passed in September. Previously, Roscomnadzor indicated that the law wouldn’t affect Twitter, as it didn’t consider the kind of data Twitter stores to be “personal information.”

    New Research: OnlineCensorship.org is online!

    A new online data project launched by Global Voices author and free expression advocate Jillian C. York seeks to encourage social media companies to operate with greater transparency and accountability toward their users as they make decisions that regulate speech. Onlinecensorship.org collects reports from users in an effort to shine a light on what content is taken down, why companies make certain decisions about content, and how content takedowns are affecting communities of users around the world.

    gv-advocacy-badge-400The Netizen Report is produced by Global Voices Advocacy. Ellery Roberts Biddle, Weiping Li, Hae-in Lim, Bojan Perkov and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

    Tagged: bangladesh censorship digital rights facebook global voices hong kong internet ban mobile chat apps morocco netizen report Reddit russia syria twitter

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