Bloggers in Bangladesh have fallen victim to the country’s latest wave of online censorship, as the most popular Bengali blogging website is shut down by ISPs.
somewhereinblog.net hosts more than 250,000 registered bloggers and claims that it doesn’t allow any obscene content, which has been the main target of the government crackdowns to date.
However, Telecoms Minister Mustafa Jabbar disagreed, telling the Dhaka Tribune that the website had “objectionable content”. He recently declared a “war” on pornography.
A moderator and spokesperson for somewhereinblog.net Mozaddid Al Fasani told French press agency AFP: “We were stunned after discovering our blog was blacklisted and blocked,
“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.”
Activists have criticized the recent censorship measures as an attack on freedom of expression, something which Al Fasani and somewhereinblog.net advocate.
“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.”
The blog platform’s blocking comes just days after 20,000 porn and gambling websites were brought down when the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) ordered a ban on pornography and obscene content.
The Bengali version of Google Books has also been blocked, alongside popular social media apps TikTok and Bigo. Social media accounts are monitored and censored by Bangladesh’s telecom authorities too.
Bangladesh is not the only country in the South Asia region to block ‘indecent’ websites, as both India and Nepal have taken similar methods to quash adult content online.
As is often the case in high-censorship countries, citizens find alternative methods of accessing restricted content, such the use of VPNs and proxy sites, which change a user’s IP address, allowing them to appear to be in a different country.
It’s not clear as of yet whether the government will turn its attention to restricting VPN usage, as is the case in India, but there always tends to be a handful of services that work despite bans and blocks.