BANGLADESH: Pro-government entities create copyright disputes over virtual contents critical of the regime

Governmental repressions continue as Bangladesh keeps curbing the civic space of the people with impunity. The Sheikh Hasina government has systematically using multiple technics and spying technological tools to curb the freedom of expression in online and off-line. The pro-regime cyber-worriers have launched a trend of creating fake copyright disputes over the contents that criticise the government. Most of the websites and social media platforms that face such fake disputes are based outside the national jurisdiction of Bangladesh.

Pro-government interventions trigger copyright disputes over online materials:

Bangladesh governmental agencies and pro-government entities have launched a systemic fake copyright disputes against virtual contents critical of the incumbent regime. News portals, online media channels and individual’s social media profiles have been consistently facing the copyright disputes leading to removal of the contents that expose corruption and criticism of the government. On the other hand, the Bangladesh government made deal with Cable News Network (CNN), a news channel of the United States, for promoting the ‘development’ stories for branding the success of the Sheikh Hasina regime, which is accused of scandalous corruption and election rigging.

The Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) – one of the most powerful intelligence agencies of the country’s armed forces – reportedly hack Facebook through sophisticated operations. The Facebook authorities previously confirmed that “Bangladesh-based group targeted local activists, journalists and religious minorities, including those living abroad, to compromise their accounts and have some of them disabled by Facebook for violating our Community Standards”, according its investigation. Bangladesh’s armed forces and the law-enforcement agencies, including the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) have been using invasive spying technologies for human rights violations.

Netra News – a Sweden based online investigative media outlet founded by tortured and subsequently exiled journalist Tasneem Khalil, has been regularly facing copyright disputes against news contents. The latest incident of copyright disputes launched against an exclusive investigative report on corruption in power and energy sector business by the relatives of the incumbent State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid Bipu. Since the publication of the report the YouTube channel of the news portal after ‘disabling for less than 24 hours’.

An indigenous rights group’s website, which used to report the atrocities committed by the security forces in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, had faced fake copyright disputes leading to blockade of its web contents. A Bangla news portal Amar Desh UK, which started its publication from the United Kingdom after the Daily Amar Desh – a Dhaka based national daily – was forcibly shutdown by the Bangladesh Police, encountered several fake copyright disputes. Consistent fake claims over copyright with provable factual information resulted to closure of the website of the Amar Desh UK due to lack of prompt and effective remedy against the web-hosting companies that unilaterally shuts down the website for not conceding the fake claims – as one of the loopholes of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of the United States.

The fake copyright dispute was not limited to the media outlets established by exiled Bangladeshis. Indian online portal Scroll Dot In was forced offline for publishing an article criticising Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s adviser Gowher Rizvi.

Pro-government organisations launch smear campaigns against exiled journalists:

Pro-government entity and associates continue smear campaign against journalists, who are based in abroad, for criticising the Sheikh Hasina government. Exiled journalist Tasneem Khalil, the Editor-in-Chief of Netra News, who has been accused in digital security case in Bangladesh by the law-enforcement agencies, has been one of the prime targets in the latest trend.

British journalist David Bergman , who used to live and work in Bangladesh and had worked on various sociopolitical and cultural issues of the country, has been one of the targets for publishing contents criticising the incumbent regime.

Bangladeshi journalist Kanak Sarwar, who is exiled in the United States, had his YouTube channel blocked due to fake copyright claims, apparently launched by the Bangladesh’s pro-government cyber-worriers.

The list of victims of pro-government hate campaign is ever growing in Bangladesh as the country ranks first in ‘cyber security index’ among the South Asian nations. It happens at a time when most of the media of Bangladesh are owned by the political affiliates, according to a study.

Three Journalists Sued while one detained for revealing COVID-19 related corruption:
Three journalists have been facing Digital Security Act-2018 case for publishing reports on corruption on COVID-19 in Northern Bangladesh while the police detained one them. The detained journalist was Tanvir Hassan Tanu, a journalist, who works as the district correspondent of online portal Jago News 24 Dot Com. The Thakurgaon police arrested and detained Tanvir on 10 July 2021 while on the following day the journalist’s lawyer managed to obtain bail from the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s Court. Two other journalists – Rahim Shuvo and Abdul Latif Litu – were accused in the same case for publishing reports in the online news portals on the same corruption issue.

The supervisor of Thakurgaon Sadar Hospital Dr. Nadirul Aziz Chapal filed a case with the Thakurgaon Sadar Police Station under Digital Security Act-2018 on 10 July. The hospital supervisor accused three journalists for publishing reports in media about the ongoing corruption in managing the COVID-19 patients’ meals at the hospital. The pictorial report quoted experiences of the COVID-19 patients with photos of the meals served at the hospital. It highlighted that the hospital only spent around BDT 80 (USD 0.94) while the official allocated budget for per patient was BDT 300 (USD 3.52). The reports quoted the remarks of the hospital officials including the supervisor Dr. Nadirul Aziz Chapal, who registered the complainant against the three journalists. Although journalist Tanvir was released on bail within 24 hours, which is unprecedented in the country’s trend of denial of the right to obtain bail for the cases filed under the Digital Security Act, the case against the three journalists remains pending.