After Executions, Bangladesh Maintains Heavy Security, Partial Internet Shutdown

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
2015.11.23
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151123-BD-executionfolo-620 Bangladeshi police stand guard during a day-long strike called by Jamaat-e-Islami to protest Sunday’s executions of Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid and Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, Nov. 23, 2015.
AFP

Bangladesh was on a heightened state of alert for a second straight day Monday, after authorities carried out controversial executions of two opposition politicians and convicted war criminals.

Thousands of police officers and members of paramilitary units remained deployed in the streets of Dhaka and other major cities, and the government maintained a shutdown of some social media sites, namely Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp, out of fears that trouble makers could communicate with each other or foment violence.

The shutdown was implemented Nov. 18 as a public safety precaution in the lead-up to and aftermath of the executions of opposition figures Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid, which were carried out early Sunday.

The heavy security presence was deployed late Saturday as the clock counted down to the executions of Chowdhury, a former MP with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and Mojahid, a former minister and secretary general of Jemaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party. In 2013, the two men were convicted of crimes committed during Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971, when they were fighting with pro-Pakistani forces –charges which both men denied.

After the two were hanged at Dhaka Central Jail, Jemaat activists called a nationwide hartal (strike) for Monday to protest against the executions, but demonstrators stayed away and there were no reports of any widespread violence amid the intensified security presence.

Diplomatic fallout

Pakistan also criticized the executions and, on Monday, Bangladesh’s foreign ministry summoned Shuja Alam, Pakistan’s high commissioner in Dhaka, to complain to him about this.

“We strongly protested against their comments,” acting Foreign Secretary Mijanur Rahman told reporters on Monday, referring to comments made by a spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry, who described the hangings of Chowdhury and Mojahid as “unfortunate.”

Also on Monday, Bangladeshi officials said they were considering lifting the ban on the handful of social media sites.

“The situation seems to have improved now after the executions. Hopefully, we will open the social media soon, subject to security clearance,” Shahjahan Mahmood, chairman of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, told BenarNews.

The partial shutdown on social media sites went into effect Wednesday, after Bangladesh’s Supreme Court upheld death sentences handed to the two senior opposition figures by the country’s war crimes tribunal.

“Facebook and other social media were rife with propaganda about the trial of the war criminals. The propaganda was aimed at misleading the common people and creating unrest in the country. So, we had to suspend the social media for national interest,” Mahmood said.

Some people were posting hateful messages against the country’s Hindu minority to incite violence ahead of the executions, he added.

One account on Facebook, justice4chowdhury, presented misleading information about Chowdhury, officials said.

Experts, internet users question shutdown

Experts, however, are questioning the effectiveness of the government’s decision to shut down social media tools like Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp in going after criminals online.

“Actually, our law enforcers in many cases lack necessary skills to track the cyber criminals at the right time. The criminals sometimes outfox the police and the law enforcers by using Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp for criminal purposes,” Tanvir Hasan Zoha, a cybercrime expert from the government’s information and communication technology division who works with the police, told BenarNews.

Telecom and social media researcher Abu Saeed Khan agreed.

“There is no credible evidence, I say credible evidence, in any part of the world that the closure of Facebook and other social media would cut crime,” he told BenarNews.

Meanwhile, Bangladeshi business people who rely on such tools to conduct commerce online said they were suffering because of the shutdown.

“Shutting down Facebook is a big blow for me. I used to get a good number of purchase orders from Facebook every day, but now it is nil,” Abul Kashem, the proprietor of online shopping center DiaBazar.com, told BenarNews.

He said the social media suspensions cost him two ways.

“I have to pay to the TV stations and newspapers every day to advertise for my shop, but I do so on Facebook for free. On Facebook, I get consumers’ feedback, which I do not get from TV and newspapers,” Kashem said.

Shahriar Sharif contributed to this report.

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