Bangladesh Court Orders Al Jazeera Documentary Removed from Social Media

BenarNews staff
Dhaka and Washington
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Bangladesh Court Orders Al Jazeera Documentary Removed from Social Media Mostefa Souag, Al Jazeera’s acting director general, speaks at the network’s headquarters in Doha, Qatar, during a campaign for the release of detained journalist Mahmoud Hussein, Sept. 19, 2019.

Updated at 6:51 p.m. ET on 2021-02-17

A Bangladeshi court on Wednesday directed that an Al Jazeera documentary be removed from social media platforms in the country, telecom regulators said, a day after army chief Gen. Aziz Ahmed dismissed allegations made by the film against him and his brothers.

The chairman of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission said requests for the removal had been forwarded to Facebook and YouTube.

“We have yet to get the High Court order to remove the Al Jazeera documentary from social media platforms, but we are not waiting for the written order to come,” BTRC head Shyam Sunder Sikder told BenarNews. “After being briefed by the lawyer representing us at the court, we have sent requests to the Facebook and YouTube authorities to remove the documentary.

“We hope they would respect the court order,” he said.

“If Facebook and YouTube do not remove the documentary, we will find out what to do. Removing the contents from our side is a cumbersome process,” Sikder added.

Meanwhile, the investigative unit of Qatar-based Al Jazeera defended the accuracy of its documentary, “All the Prime Minister’s Men.”

In a statement released Wednesday, the unit said the documentary “exposes how the head of the Bangladesh army helped two fugitive brothers, convicted of murder, to escape justice. One brother, Haris Ahmed, boasts that he can use police and paramilitary units to abduct rivals and earn a fortune in bribes thanks to his powerful family links.”

As of late Wednesday, the documentary had been viewed nearly 7 million times on Al Jazeera’s YouTube channel since it was published online and aired on the network’s international cable TV channel on Feb. 1.

“Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit stands 100 percent behind the accuracy of its journalism and the brave individuals who were prepared to take a stand against corruption at great personal risk to themselves and their families,” the statement said.

“Before the release of the investigation, Al Jazeera reached out to all parties involved, including the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the brothers of General Ahmed, senior members of the security forces and ministers. None responded to a detailed set of questions,” it went on to say.

An expert on cybersecurity and information technology said Bangladesh could have a tough time getting rid of the documentary because government agencies cannot remove content from social media sites.

“Al Jazeera has uploaded the documentary from its channel, so, YouTube and Facebook would only remove the documentary if Al Jazeera requests such removal,” Tanvir Hassan Zoha told BenarNews.

“What the government agencies can do is block some accounts that share the documentary. But people would be able to watch those from mobile phones and tablets,” Zoha said. “Again, the documentary has gone viral – it has spread in such a volume that this is almost impossible for Bangladesh authorities to remove from the social media platforms.”

Petition filed

On Feb. 8, Supreme Court lawyer Enamul Kabir Emon filed a petition to ban Al Jazeera from broadcasting in Bangladesh and to remove the documentary from all social media platforms.

Two days later, the High Court appointed six senior lawyers to consider the petition.

“A majority of the lawyers told court that the government should not block the Al Jazeera telecast as the Bangladesh constitution guarantees freedom of expression,” Attorney General A.M. Amin Uddin told BenarNews.

Uddin said he disagreed with a majority of those lawyers who said the petitioner was not hurt by the documentary so it should not be removed from social media.

“But I told the court that the documentary termed Bangladesh a mafia state. This word makes every citizen aggrieved,” he said.

In other judicial action on Wednesday, a lawyer filed a petition in a Dhaka court to bring sedition charges against journalist David Bergman, whistle blower Sami, Tasneem Khalil and Al Jazeera acting director general Mostefa Souag, for their roles in the documentary. Bergman, Sami and Khalil, who is editor-in-chief of Sweden-based Netra News, were interviewed extensively for the documentary. The court did not immediately act on the petition.

“The filing against the four has some meaning, though all of them have been living abroad. They will face the charges if they enter Bangladesh territory,” Abdul Matin Khasru, one of the six lawyers on the panel, told BenarNews.

General speaks out

The documentary linked Gen. Aziz and at least one of his brothers to allegations of corruption, including a military purchase of Israeli-made surveillance equipment despite a Bangladeshi trade ban with the Jewish State.

The report led United Nations officials to call for an investigation earlier this month. The call came as Aziz was in the United States where he met with U.S. military and U.N. officials.

Addressing the documentary publicly for the first time on Tuesday, Aziz rejected its allegations against him and his brothers.

“I want to assure you that such propaganda won’t even cast a little bit effect on its chain of command. The Bangladesh Army is respectful to the constitution of Bangladesh, committed to upholding the constitution … loyal to the government and ready to follow any order of the government,” Aziz said.

Al Jazeera reported that brothers Haris Ahmed had been living in Hungary and Anis Ahmed had been living in Kuala Lumpur following murder convictions, but had returned for the wedding of Aziz’s son in 2019.

Major Bangladesh newspaper Prothom Alo reported earlier this week that the brothers were pardoned one day before the wedding. The pardons had not been reported previously by Bengali media.

A third brother, Tofail Ahmed Joseph, received a presidential pardon in 2018 after serving more than a decade in prison and less than a month before Aziz received his appointment to lead the army. That pardon was publicized in the local media.

Aziz promised to hold a press conference with his brothers soon.


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