The level of internet usage in Bangladesh has risen dramatically in the last year or so. In fact latest figures now suggest that over 31 million citizens now have some sort of internet connection, in fact the level has risen over 15% in the last nine months. Even given the dramatic figures usually quoted with anything to with the internet – these are pretty impressive. However anyone hoping that this is going to open up a brave new world of communication, opportunity and free expression in Bangladesh is going to be rather disappointed.
The country is not in a good place, corruption is rife, millions live in abject poverty and incidents like the collapse of the clothing factory which killed hundreds are all too common albeit on a smaller scale. Given the many problems the country face – you’d expect that people would be protesting, but perhaps about something other than calling for the death of certain bloggers.
This is what happened in Dhaka last week – thousands took to the streets calling for the execution of bloggers deemed blasphemous against Islam.
Depressing isn’t it? Journalists who tried to cover the protests were attacked for various reasons. One woman reporter was attacked and beaten by the protesters who deemed that being a journalist was an unfit profession for a woman. Several bloggers have already been attacked by fundamentalists and indeed one brave young man – Ahmed Rajib Haider was brutally killed by a gang armed with machetes.
The prospects of any sort of freedom or tolerance are looking bleak in this country. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) are investigating advanced content filtering systems which would be used to block such sites which are morally inappropriate or contain material which is harmful to national unity or religious beliefs. Which in a country as corrupt as Bangladesh means they are going to block whatever they want.
It’s not stopping there though, the Bangladesh Government have already released their own custom search engine called – Piplika which will probably end up being the only allowed search engine. It’s a fantastic place to get a wide array of search results though – try it here. Here’s what you get if you search for sites on information on poor Ahmed Rajib Haider –
Notice how all the search results point to different articles on the same site – the first two pages of results are all the same – the Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Sun. You won’t be surprised to hear that the Daily Sun is apparently more of a propaganda tool for the ruling party (the Awami League) than a real newspaper.
It’s a bleak prospect for the country, bloggers are scared to blog, journalists being attacked and intimidated if they speak out and the BTRC already ordering thousands of posts to be removed from websites and blogs deemed to be insulting to Islam.
If any bloggers in Bangladesh need some security and a way to bypass these filters the kind people at Identity Cloaker have given me a few free subscriptions which I’m happy to send out.