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Government closes the internet in Bangladesh !

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For the first time in its history, the government yesterday temporarily shut down the internet in Bangladesh, affecting businesses and services heavily dependent on the digital network. The government actually meant to block Facebook and online messaging and calling services WhatsApp and Viber.

The order came this morning immediately after the Supreme Court pronounced its verdict maintaining its previous ruling that upheld death penalty to war criminals Salauddin Quader Chowdhury and Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed.

The government said the internet was shut down “mistakenly”. The shutdown, which lasted for over 75 minutes, from 1:00pm to around 2:15pm, came shortly after the authorities blocked Facebook and online messaging and calling services WhatsApp and Viber.

Experts and entrepreneurs in the digital sphere said the shutdown had massively affected digital business, and its effect would be long-term.

Mustafa Jabbar, former president of Bangladesh Computer Samity, said the internet had become the “lifeline of modern life, businesses and offices”. According to him, blocking social networking sites and applications is a complete failure of the government mechanism.

Tarana Halim, state minister for telecommunication, and Shahjahan Mahmood, chairman of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, said the shutdown was a result of a misunderstanding.

“We restored the internet as soon as we realised the mistake,” Mahmood said.

The shutdown was just an hour after the Supreme Court delivered verdicts upholding the death penalties of war criminals Salauddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed.

Mahmood said this was not the first time the government had blocked Facebook, Whatsapp and Viber. It had happened in the past, and might happen again in future.

A senior official of the BTRC, requesting anonymity, said Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber could remain blocked for three days and on the fourth day, they would remove the block on trial basis.

On January 18 this year, the regulator had blocked Viber, WhatsApp, Tango, Mypeople and Line for four days.

The government also blocked Facebook during the BDR mutiny in 2009 and video-sharing website YouTube for 260 days between September 2012 and June 2013.

On November 11, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told parliament that WhatsApp and Viber could be temporarily blocked when needed in order to capture militants and prevent their criminal activities.

Some people were carrying out criminal activities with the help of these apps, she said.

Digital platforms of businesses, e-commerce and online banking were affected during the internet blackout. The effect was massive for businesses, which bank heavily on Facebook. Kowser Ahmed, owner of two outsourcing companies, said, “I could not deliver any product to my clients on time.”

MA Hakim, president of Internet Service Providers Association Bangladesh, said they knew that a lot of orders for garments, which account for about 80 percent of the countrys exports, are placed using various internet platforms. These meetings were affected, he said.More than 1,000 Facebook pages on garment export businesses were unreachable, he said.

Maj Gen (retd) Md Abdur Rashid, a security analyst, said the authorities could block social media to ensure safety of the innocent. But many countries do not need to block the social media as they have the capacity to monitor them. A top official of the Detective Branch, preferring anonymity, told The Daily Star that the services were blocked so that nobody could mobilise their force using the internet.

Author: Ishan Hasnat – Bangladesh

source photo: pinterest

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