Bangladesh Bans YouTube

Mashuqur Rahman

Mashuqur Rahman

A Cartoon by Arifur Rahman
A Cartoon by Arifur Rahman

It is now confirmed that Bangladesh has blocked YouTube and some other file sharing websites after audio of a meeting between the Prime Minister and a large gathering of army senior officers was leaked and posted on YouTube. The AFP reports:

Bangladesh has blocked the video sharing website YouTube for hosting a recorded conversation between the newly elected prime minister and the country’s powerful army officers, officials said Sunday.

Internet users were unable to access the site after it hosted the audio tape, which appeared to show angry officers shouting at Sheikh Hasina over her handling of a bloody mutiny that has threatened Bangladesh’s recent return to democracy.

The violence in the capital Dhaka 10 days ago left at least 74 people dead including 56 army officers who were butchered and buried in shallow graves by mutinous border guards.

A senior government official told AFP the site has been blocked after it hosted “contents subversive to the state.”

“The government can block any site that contains anti-state or subversive contents, which may cause unrest. We took the measure temporarily. It will be lifted soon,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

I guess the army is embarrassed because the audio from the meeting showed the senior staff to be undisciplined and angry. On the audio, army officers can be heard shouting at the Prime Minister, demanding she answer their questions, and generally conducting themselves badly. The officers are especially angry because the government did not allow the army to launch an ill-advised assault on the BDR headquarters compound during the recent hostage crisis. This is not the image of the disciplined army that the top brass would like the Bangladeshi citizen to fear and respect.

Since the massacre at BDR headquarters that took the lives of over 70 people, majority of whom were army officers, there has been fear in Bangladesh of another army coup. The government and the media have been bending over backward to praise the army for its “restraint”. In other words, the army is being praised for doing what armies are supposed to do: maintain discipline and obey the civilian government. However, in Bangladesh, that is no small task – the army has a habit of taking over when it feels it necessary. The army has just recently returned to the barracks after ruling for 2 years. Democracy in Bangladesh is conducted at the mercy of the army.

Now, the leak of the audio tape threatens to test the army’s mercy. So, in true Third World fashion, they have decided to cut off YouTube to prevent the spread of this audio. Of course the audio has been out for a week now and many people have already downloaded it and listened to it. No matter. If you want to be feared in the Third World, you have to take action against the Internets.

So much for democracy in Bangladesh. They say the Pakistan army tolerates civilian governments only if they “play within the wickets”. It appears that the Bangladesh army also wants to umpire this game of cricket. Two months after the restoration of democracy in Bangladesh, the civilian government is playing nicely within the wickets.

For those of you who may be YouTube challenged at the moment, listen to the audio at Live Leak (until the Bangladesh government decides Live Leak is also “anti-state”). For those of you who do not understand Bengali, shouting sounds the same in any language. Listen below:

Link to part 1 of audio:

Link to part 2 of audio:

Link to part 3 of audio:

Update (March 8, 2009 2:18PM): Via BDNews24, a Bangladesh government official defends blocking of YouTube and eSnips:

Dhaka, Mar 08 (—A top regulatory official has defended blocking of Websites to Bangladeshi visitors in the national interest, saying it is permitted by law.

Popular video site YouTube and blog site could not be accessed by visitors from Bangladesh territory in the last two days, leading to reports that the Websites might have been blocked by the authorities.

“Nothing has been done which is beyond the jurisdiction of the government,” BTRC chairman Zia Ahmed told, when asked to confirm the reports.

An audio on the proceedings of the Mar 1 meeting between prime minister Sheikh Hasina and hundreds of army officers at the Dhaka cantonment in the wake of the Feb 25-26 BDR mutiny was posted on both the sites, and visitors passed on the links through emails.

Some newspapers also carried abridged versions of the texts of the audio, leaked apparently by rogue intelligent agents.

“The government can take any decision to stop any activity that threatens national unity and integrity,” said retired brigadier general Zia Ahmed.

Update (March 8, 2009 9:04PM): also appears to be blocked in Bangladesh at the BTTB gateway (thanks Ehab for the hat tip). At this rate, the government will have to block all peer-to-peer activity as well, not to mention a growing list of web servers that are hosting the audio files. I’d recommend they spend their time finding out who recorded and leaked the audio from the meeting. I am guessing the suspect list is finite and is limited to all the army officers there, the Prime Minister, her military advisor, and one civilian minister who attended. Trying to stop the audio file from being distributed after it has already been out there for a week is foolish. The government’s censorship attempt is making more news than the original audio files did.

Mashuqur Rahman [] is one of the highest read Bangladeshi-American bloggers. Critically acclaimed for his incisive analysis on Bangladesh, US foreign policy and dedicated advocacy of human rights.

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