A few alarming events took place last few days. Let me list them,
1. A young men was arrested for doing cartoon caricature on our Prime Minister. Per newspaper reports, he did the same thing on PM’s son a little while ago. Law enforcement agency tells he also publish classified government report on BDR mutiny in facebook.
2. Same day, a few hours later, government banned facebook in Bangladesh on the pretext of it allowing materials hurting people’s religious sentiments.
3. Main media outlets which commands >90% readership reports those above stories with their mild spins. Through their spins, facebook ban is a temporary two day event and it was banned by BTRC. The news of the arrest was very successfully deprived of a headline by hiding it in the facebook ban news. In the news of the arrest the media told the nation that that young man was arrested for drawing cartoon on BOTH THE LEADERS, i.e. Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia.
4. My friend emailed me, visibly alarmed at a Naya Diganta news when some Madrassa nuts brought out a rally demanding facebook ban. To me it read like that the whole facebook ban is an act of the right wing nuts, our government had no option but to comply with their demands. So lets be very wary about the those right wing nuts . [ And give the government a break. ]
I replied to my friend that I am equally alarmed at all four above mentioned events. The right wings demands are concerning. Equally concerning to me are the efforts by our progressives who control our mainstream media to undermine this draconian act of the government and make it look like that our Prime Minister has nothing to with this.
I also wrote that when such things ( e.g. arrest cartoonist Arif arrest case) happened during 1/11 era, we never hesitated to make it a top down government crime and raise our voice by all the means we had. I also reminded my friend that if this kind of incident took place before 2006, what would have been our reaction? Would it have been an act of BTRC and RAB, would the arrest news got hidden in another news? It would have been a direct crime of Khaleda-Nizami cohort to make the country Afganistan.
It is ridiculous to assert that the ban was due to pressure on the government by the right wing Islamists. Just yesterday the number two person of the ruling party confirmed Law Minister’s previous announcement that government will change constitution to remove Islam as the state religion and other non secular amendments. In last ten months this government did not allow the main religious party Jamat e Islami to hold one single street rally anywhere. This has is nothing to do with a rally by Madrassa leaders like Amini or the publication of this news in Naya Diganta.
I would like to take this opportunity to challenge our friends in media, blogosphere to rise to this occasion. This is our opportunity to show the nation that our agenda is for a progressive cause, not for a partisan cause. I believe the cause is progressive, but it is our job to make the nation believe the same.
I am afraid, the whole facebook arrest and ban are ill advised actions of the government to contain some news which they either don’t want people to know or be used as false propaganda against government. This government banned youtube previously for publishing BDR mutiny related audios. Recently facebook was also used to publish some document purported to be classified government report of BDR mutiny. There may be great unease at this sort of activities. Religious sentiment may be an intelligent ploy this time to kill the bird and put the blame on the Islamic fundamentalists.
Facebook ban is a very dangerous precedent. We definitely reserve the right to ban materials that may hurt our feelings. But that could have been done in a more smart way. The specific page that contains any offensive material could be blocked. Whole facebook ban or arresting someone for caricaturing a political leader are not expected from a democratic government. If we ban facebook today, we will ban other outlets tomorrow and then whole internet will come under attack some day.
And we must see and say the spade a spade. It is equally dangerous to see some acts of bigotry are tolerated only because a friendly government is in power.