The Bangladesh government has blocked Al Jazeera’s English news website hours after it published an article on Wednesday detailing the alleged involvement of the country’s most senior security and defence figure in the disappearance of three men as part of a business dispute involving his wife.
The article, which focused on the role of Tarique Ahmed Siddique, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s security adviser and head of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), the country’s military intelligence agency, was published on Wednesday afternoon, Bangladesh time.
By the evening, most readers in Bangladesh could not access the website.
The piece was done by Al Jazeera’s Investigation Unit.
Joban, a local news and discussion site which published a summary of the article in Bengali, was also inaccessible.
This is not the first time the government of Bangladesh has blocked any foreign news website.
In November 2017, Indian news website The Wire was cut off after it published a story on the alleged role of the DGFI in the disappearance of an academic, Mubashar Hasan.
In the past, Bangladesh security agencies had blocked websites by sending an instruction to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) which then emailed all International Internet Gateways.
However, in recent months, the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) and the National Telecommunication Monitoring Centre (NTMC) have rolled out a new system that allows the agencies to block websites centrally without having to involve the BTRC.
The Bangladesh government has become increasingly sensitive to criticism in recent years.
Last weekend, Mahfuza Akhter Kiron, who leads the women’s wing of the Bangladesh Football Federation and is a council member of the world footballing body FIFA, was arrested and jailed for three days after she criticised the prime minister for failing to give sufficient financial support to football and instead prioritising cricket.
Just before the national elections in December, the government had blocked 58 local news websites, including many that supported opposition parties, after officials claimed that they published “fake and baseless news”.
However, the government consistently denies that the country’s media is restricted.
In an interview on Al Jazeera’s Head to Head programme, broadcast earlier this month, Gowher Rizvi, the foreign affairs adviser to the prime minister, said, “Those who know the media in Bangladesh, know one thing. That it is free. It is vigorous.”
On the same programme, the Bangladesh High Commissioner for the UK, Saida Muna Tasneem, said, “Sheikh Hasina is being criticised left and right.
“There are newspapers criticising Sheikh Hasina. In the parliament, she is being criticised. So why wouldn’t Bangladesh have press freedom.”
“Restricting access is not the way to respond to these allegations,” Ali Riaz, a professor of politics and government at Illinois State University, told Al Jazeera.
“Restrictions on the media and access to cyberspace have become hallmarks of the system of governance in Bangladesh in the past years. Access to information and free flow of information are progressively being curtailed in the country, steps that are not only contrary to the democratic spirit, but unhelpful and in the long run, counterproductive.”