Authorities in Bangladesh blocked access to Netra News, a Sweden-based investigative journalism portal, within 3 days of the outlet carrying a story on allegations of corruption against Obaidul Quader, the country’s minister of road transport and bridges, and general secretary of the ruling Awami Party, Al Jazeera reported. The story in question, “A wrist of luxury”, was published on December 26, 2019, and the outlet’s editor-in-chief, told the Committee to Protect Journalists that Netra News has been inaccessible throughout Bangladesh since December 29. He also said that some readers had reported problems in accessing the website on December 28. Two Bangladeshi nationals confirmed to MediaNama that access to Netra News remains blocked as of January 6, 2019.
The direction to block the Netra News in Bangladesh was purportedly issued by the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), Bangladesh’s intelligence agency, according to Al Jazeera. The story elucidates how Quader manages to afford an expensive collection of luxury wristwatches from brands such as Rolex and Louis Vuitton. According to the website’s About page, Netra News is a project of Bangladesh Media Network, and is currently supported by a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy.
Bangladesh’s chequered history with media censorship: Blocking access to news websites, and consequently stifling press freedom, isn’t a new phenomenon in Bangladesh, which was ranked 150 in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index.
- In December 2018, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) had ordered 54 news portals to be blocked.
- The Al Jazeera report also claims that Bangladesh blocked access to its website after it carried a story that accused General Tarique Ahmed Siddique, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s security adviser was using state security to abduct three men following a business dispute.
- Indian digital publication, The Wire, was also blocked in Bangladesh in 2017, after it carried a story accusing the country’s military intelligence of abducting an academic.
Bangladesh’s Digital Security Bill has been criticised for stifling free speech: In September 2018, Bangladesh had passed the Digital Security Bill 2018, amid widespread protests against the Bill. The Asia Internet Coalition, which counts Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon, LinkedIn, Twitter among others as its members, had said that the Bill can have a chilling effect on free speech.