BANGLADESH: State cannot deny freedom of expression by suspending media telecast 

The government of Bangladesh on Monday blanked out three satellite television channels – Ekushey Television, Bangla Vision and Islamic TV – almost an hour before the leader of the opposition Begum Khaleda Zia started her speech at a four-party grand rally today, March 12, 2012. According to a Daily Star report, viewers could not watch these TV channels from around 3 pm (Bangladesh Time). The report says, officials of the channels confirmed that government agencies asked Cable Operators’ Association of Bangladesh (COAB) to suspend the telecast as the channels were planning to go LIVE with the mass rally. Although several COAB members acknowledged receiving instruction from the government, a government-appointed administrator for the COAB denied any government role in blanking out the three channels.

According to several newspaper reports and Asian Human Rights Commission’s own investigation, the officials of the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC), the government’s monitoring and licensing authority on telecast, called the high-ranking officials of the TV channels and asked not to broadcast the opposition rally live.

At around 8:25 HK Time, the ETV claimed in its special bulletin, which was on air through an international live stream website, “viewers could not watch the TV channel from 2:30pm on Monday. At 3:30 pm the transmission of the channel was suspended from its own satellite base”.

Mr. Shaikh Siraj, director and head of news of Channel I, has been cited in a report published by BD that his channel received calls from the BTRC to know whether the TV channel had any intension to broadcast the opposition rally live. Mr. Siraj has also been quoted as saying “They [BTRC] give us licence. So, when they ask in such a way, it can be assumed as warning”.

Denial of freedom of expression and suspension of television broadcasts are violation of the universally recognised fundamental rights. Human rights begin with the freedom of expression, which is the basic foundation of any form of human rights. The government of Bangladesh has failed to recognize and protect these rights. The Asian Human Rights Commission expresses its deep concern over the government’s suppression of freedom of expression of the people of Bangladesh. The government must stop such attitude, which only resembles to practices of a dictatorial regime, and immediately ensure unhampered broadcasting of the three TV channels.