BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir on Sunday alleged that the government is using "internet shutdown" as a weapon to suppress the movement of the opposition.
Speaking at a press conference at the BNP Chairperson’s Gulshan office, he said the current regime is also using the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) as a modern tool to repress people, deprive them of their rights to have uninterrupted internet access and snatch their freedom of expression.
"The government is using a new digital weapon, 'internet-shutdown', to snatch people's right to have nonstop internet access and their freedom of expression out of its fear of a mass uprising,” the BNP leader said.
Apart from the internet shutdown, he said the government has continued various other forms of digital torture, including monitoring the smartphones of the opposition leaders, violating their personal privacy, and checking their cell phones. "We strongly protest the abuse of digital technology.”
The BNP leader demanded the government immediately repeal the Digital Security Act (DSA) as not only the BNP leaders and workers but also the freethinkers are being subjected to harassment through it.
“Internet-shutdown incidents are terrible violations of civic rights. It is a crime similar to murder and enforced disappearance,” he said.
When a person is subjected to enforced disappearance, Fakhrul said, only one person is lost. “But if the internet is shut down somewhere, crores of people in the country and abroad become victims of it. Erasing people’s existence online is as much a crime as a murder. The fascist Awami League regime is continuously committing this crime.”
BNP’s media cell arranged the press conference to protest against all forms of digital torture, including internet shutdown.
Fakhrul highlighted the incident of shutting down mobile internet services during BNP’s rally in front of its Nayapaltan central office on July 12 last and during BNP’s divisional rallies in Khulna, Barisal, Faridpur, Sylhet, Cumilla, Rajshahi and Dhaka in November and December last year.
He alleged that though the interest services were disconnected in the Nayapaltan area on July 12 during BNP’s rally, the internet connection was normal on the same day during the ruling party’s rally in Baitul Mukarram National Mosque area.
According to a report released by digital rights watchdog Access Now this year, the BNP leader said Bangladesh ranked fifth in the world in terms of the number of internet shutdowns.
He said four countries---India 84 times, Ukraine 22 times, Iran 18 times, and Myanmar 7 times—shut down the internet due to a state of insurgency or a war-like situation.
The BNP leader questioned whether there was any war in Bangladesh for which the government was forced to shut down internet services six times. “Against whom the government is waging that war?.”
"Internet services are now an essential means of expressing people’s opinions. Discontinuance of this service mainly hampers the freedom of expression,” he observed.
Stating that internet services are now not limited to social media entertainment only, the BNP leader said as these services have expanded to many important areas, including financial transactions, education, medical treatment, data collection, preservation, outsourcing, overseas travel, employment, and job interviews, and has become an indispensable part of life.
“So, we believe that the incidents of blocking or controlling the Internet services are a clear violation of the civic rights of individuals, a clear violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international agreements on civil and political rights," Fakhrul asserted.
He also alleged that the police are harassing ordinary people by illegally arresting them on the streets and searching their mobile phones.