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Bangladesh extends block to online voice and messaging services

This statement was originally published on ifj.org on 21 January 2015.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins the Bangladesh Manobadhikar Sangbadik Forum (BMSF) in expressing concerns over ongoing Government-ordered arbitrary blocking of Internet-based voice and messaging services.

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has ordered Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and mobile phone operators to block access to online voice and messaging services including, WhatsApp, mypeople and Line, while Viber and Tango had their blocks extended until Wednesday midnight, January 21. The BMSF and media fear that the blocks will continue.

The BTRC has reportedly acted on instructions from law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The state claimed that the agencies had specific information that subversive activities, including bomb and arson attacks, were being carried out through directives given using the online services.

The Prathom Alo, a popular daily newspaper, termed the blocking 'a violation of fundamental human rights' in its editorial. It said: "There is no example in any civilized democratic country of the government blocking communications simply by executive order, with no explanation at all."

The services had been blocked after an escalation of violence in the nationwide demonstrations and strikes led by an alliance of 20 political parties including the main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The intelligence agencies can locate any caller when a regular call is made from a mobile phone but they cannot get the location when the caller is using Viber or Tango, claimed an official of the telecom regulator.

Jane Worthington, the IFJ Asia Pacific acting director, said: "The arbitrary blocking of communication services is against the principles of freedom of expression and an attempt by the Government to control information flows. The IFJ urges the Bangladeshi Government to withdraw the block immediately."

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