Bangladesh has announced plans to monitor social media networks such as Facebook in a bid to identify bloggers who have been accused of insulting Islam and the religious character Mohammed.
A special panel is being set up, including leaders of the main intelligence agencies and the telecoms regulator, to exchange information and track down the people behind recent posts that have caused 'outrage' among Islamic groups.
Mainuddin Khandaker, a senior home ministry official who will head the panel, threatened:
We will try our best to dig out what's actually happening and find out the people who're making blasphemous comments against Islam and the Prophet.
There might be differences in opinion, but that does not mean anyone in the country has the rights to mock others' beliefs.
Islamic parties and leading clerics have targeted writings by atheist bloggers, calling nationwide strikes in protest and demanding the execution of those they accuse of blasphemy. Last month an alleged anti-Islam blogger was murdered. At least
eight people have been killed in the anti-blasphemy protests. The government has blocked about a dozen websites and blogs to stem the violence, as well as stepping up security for the bloggers, some of whom claim to have been threatened by the
activists of a leading Islamic party.
The Bangladesh and UK governments have started a process to block pornographic websites and stop publication of offensive contents in the countries.
The Bangladesh Telecommunications Division and British Board of Film Censors have formed committees to detect and block websites that contain pornography, vulgar picture and video contents, according to a news agency report.
The committees will make a three-level technical proposal by listing such websites ad contents within a week, State Minister for Telecommunications Tarana Halim said. The process to block these will start after getting the list and proposal, she
said after a meeting on controlling offensive internet contents at the Secretariat .
A director general of telecoms regulators BTRC will head the committee, which will comprise representatives from National Telecommunication Monitoring Centre (NTMC), internet service providers (ISPs), mobile-phone operators and law-enforcing
agencies. David Austin of the BBFC will spearhead UK censorship efforts.
Tarana said the drive against internet pornography will continue even after blocking the listed porn websites. And no doubt speaking for the UK too, she said:
The availability of internet pornography and offensive content is creating a negative social impact on all the citizens, including the adolescents.
The Bangladesh government has started an initiative to block several hundred pornography websites and already sent a list of more than 500 sites, mostly locally hosted, to ISPs.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) sent the list to all the mobile phone operators, international gateway operators, international internet gateway operators, interconnection exchange operators, internet service
providers and other telecom service providers to block the domains from their respective networks.
After receiving the list the operators have started to comply with the directive. However, a few of the websites could not be blocked immediately due to technical challenges, said BTRC officials.
The government actually wants to create massive awareness about the issue and as many hurdles as possible in browsing those sites. Tarana Halim, state minister for post and telecommunications division, said:
Initially we have decided to block around 500 websites that contain pornography, obscene pictures and video contents. In the first phase we will go for blocking the locally hosted sites
The Daily Star has obtained a copy of an email that contained a list of 510 websites branded as pornographic by an 'offensive online content control committee'.
Now is the season of school final exams in Bangladesh and the government is trying hard to cope with the issue of exam questions leaking online.
Leaking exam questions have become a regular phenomenon in public examinations like Junior School Certificate (JSC), Senior School Certificate (SSC) and Higher Secondary School Certificate (HSC), medical college and university admission tests,
and state-owned bank recruitment exams over the last several years in Bangladesh.
Mostly using Facebook and WhatsApp, people sell exam questions ahead of the nationwide examinations. A few hours before the exam, the questions are often given away for free. The offenders in most of these cases have not been identified. These
leaks have cast a shadow over the quality of exams and the process of assessing students.
In January, the Education Minister hinted that Facebook would be shut down during the exams to prevent these leaks.
On February 11, 2018, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission instructed all internet service providers in Bangladesh to shut off mobile internet and reduce broadband speeds to 25 kbps from 8:00am-10:30am on exam days throughout
the remainder of February.
But on February 12, 2018 morning, within an hour from the start of the internet shutdown, the government backtracked and ordered ISPs to ensure uninterrupted internet service. It took some hours for the ISPs to implement the new order and things
were normal again. The authorities have instead imposed a mobile phone ban near the exam halls.
Netizens criticized the move, using sarcasm and satire to express their dissatisfaction and protest the rash and whimsical decision.
For now, with demand for exam questions increasing, the leaks continue. How the government will choose to combat the problem, short of an internet shutdown, remains to be seen.
While most of the blocked sites are foreign, a few local websites and social media platforms have also been targeted by the government censorship. One of these websites, somewhereinblog.net, is the largest Bengali-language community blog platform
in the world.
The post and telecommunications minister blamed the site for spreading atheism in Bangladesh.
A group of 33 Bangladeshi university teachers, journalists, bloggers, and activists have demanded that the government lift the ban on the blog platform immediately.