DHAKA, Feb 27: Bangladesh’s most popular Bengali blog platform has been blocked by telecom regulators in what critics Wednesday denounced as an assault on freedom of expression.
The somewhereinblog.net platform was among more than 20,000 websites that internet service providers were ordered to shut down as part of a crackdown on online pornography and gambling.
But the platform, which hosts more than 250,000 registered bloggers, said it does not allow any obscene content, adding the crackdown was a clear attempt at censorship.
The sweep also blocked the Bengali version of Google Books as well as popular social media apps such as TikTok and Bigo.
“We were stunned after discovering our blog was blacklisted and blocked,” said Mozaddid Al Fasani, a moderator and spokesman for somewhereinblog.net
“Our platform, in no way, supports or spreads pornographic or obscene material and we always stay on a high alert regarding content that might hamper national security or sovereignty.”
The spokesman described reported allegations by the telecoms minister that the site promotes atheism as “disheartening”.
“We … believe in the freedom of speech. As long as someone doesn’t cross the boundary (of inciting hatred) and expresses his or her opinion about social issues and religion, we see no reason to censor them,” Al Fasani told AFP.
Telecoms Minister Mustafa Jabbar, who ordered the crackdown, told the Dhaka Tribune newspaper that somewhereinblog.net was closed due to objectionable content.
“Have you ever gone through the content that blogging websites publish? After verifying reports on all the websites, we made the move,” Jabbar said.
Rights groups have accused the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, which has just started a fourth term, of undermining free speech.
Last September the government passed a controversial digital security act that journalists said severely curbs media freedom.
Dozens of social media activists including celebrated photographer Shahidul Alam were detained for several months last year for social media comments about student protests in Dhaka. (AGENCIES)