Bangladesh Reopens Facebook After Security Agencies Sign Off

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
2015.12.10
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151210-facebook-back-620 Facebook service returned to Bangladesh on Dec. 10, after the government had ordered the social media site blocked for “security reasons” three weeks ago.
AFP

After a three-week blackout, Bangladesh on Thursday removed an online block on Facebook, but it was still blocking two other social media sites, WhatsApp and Viber, citing security reasons.

“We have opened Facebook as the government thinks it is the right time to unlock it … as relevant agencies have given the green light in this regard,” Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission Chairman Shahjahan Mahmood told BenarNews.

The block on WhatsApp and Viber will remain in place until the commission receives the same approval from security agencies, he said.

The three social media sites went dark on Nov. 18 after the country’s Supreme Court ordered the executions of two opposition leaders for war crimes committed during Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971.

The commission blocked the sites on the grounds that supporters of the opposition leaders and militants could use the online platforms to communicate with one another in planning attacks during the run-up to and aftermath of their executions.

However, the ban on the three social media sites carried over well after Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid and Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury were executed on Nov. 22, with officials justifying the extended blocks for “security reasons.”

Militants and criminals use social media for internal communication instead of mobile telephones, because security agencies can tap their phone conversations, Tanvir Hasan Zoha, an IT analyst with the government’s information and communication technology division, told BenarNews.

Facebook use booming

The Facebook block froze burgeoning online marketing businesses, people complained.

“This is good decision to open Facebook. The two other sites should also be opened for greater interests. Facebook and the social media are business platforms now,” Mostofa Jabbar, a founding member of the E-Commerce Association of Bangladesh, told BenarNews.

Online activist Sajidul Haque told BenarNews: “Blocking Facebook and social media is like cutting off the head to cure a headache.”

Bangladesh information and communication technology division officials said 1.8 million Bangladeshis have Facebook pages. Last month, technology division official Zunaid Ahmed Palak told parliament that 12 new accounts were being opened from Bangladesh every minute.

On Dec. 6, the home minister, the junior ministers in charge of telecommunication, and information and communication technology division officials met with two Facebook regional officials.

The ministers requested that Facebook filter contents on militancy, blasphemy and attacking to women and children. The Facebook officials did not make specific assurance in response to the demands, assuring that they would convey Bangladesh’s concern to the higher authorities.

Tarana Halim, the state minister for telecommunication, is set to visit Singapore on Jan. 4 to meet Facebook officials there.

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