23 July, 2023
Statement from BNP Information and Technology Affairs Secretary A K M Wahiduzzaman protesting the internet shutdown by the Awami League government during the BNP rally
Many leaders and members of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have been subject to extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance, torture, assault, and judicial harassment during the 15 years of Awami League misrule. Despite this, BNP leaders and members across the nation remained optimistic. Through protest rallies, they demand the resignation of the authoritarian Awami League government and a free, fair, and impartial election conducted by a non-partisan caretaker government. In this situation, the Awami League government is continually selecting new methods of repression, with ‘Internet Shutdown’ being the most recent example. There are three categories of internet shutdowns: ‘blackout,’ ‘throttling,’ and ‘social media platform block.’ During BNP-organized protest rallies, internet ‘blackouts’ and ‘throttling’ instances have been observed. According to several media reports, the Awami League government is forcing Bangladeshi mobile phone operators to implement ‘blackout’ and ‘throttling.’
According to #KeepItOn, a global coalition of over 240 organizations working on the ground in 105 countries against internet shutdowns around the world, an internet shutdown is- ‘intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information.’ Internet blackout refers to the complete cessation of internet connectivity. Internet throttling is slowing down Internet communication without completely halting it, such as switching from 4-G mobile data service to 2-G network speed so that users cannot share videos, live stream, or make online conversations.
‘Blackout’ and ‘Throttling” undermine people’s right to information. Impeding the free flow of information facilitates the spread of disinformation and misinformation online, which may incite political, social, and religious violence. Political parties vulnerable to government mass surveillance now use the internet as an effective medium for secure communication with its leaders and members. ‘Blackout” and ‘Throttling’ disrupt party communication and violate fundamental freedoms such as freedom of movement, expression, and assembly. Internet shutdown hinders the conduct of a fair, free and impartial election. In fact, internet shutdowns can undermine a nation’s progress toward its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by restricting or undermining democratic rights.
According to the December 2003 United Nations-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) decision and the 2011 report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression: the right to access the internet is a fundamental human right, because - Internet connection is required to exercise freedom of expression and other fundamental rights. The state is responsible for ensuring citizens’ right to internet connectivity. The state should not act against human rights by unreasonably curtailing or restricting a citizen’s right to access the internet.
In this situation, BNP is vehemently protesting against the internet shutdown by the government during the rally. If BNP comes to power in the future, it will prosecute those responsible for restricting people’s fundamental rights by shutting down the internet in the appropriate tribunals. In addition, the BNP is requesting that all telecom service providers in Bangladesh refrain from shutting down the internet and make public all orders of internet closure by the government.
(Md. Munir Hossain)
Assistant Office Secretary
Bangladesh Nationalist Party - BNP