The blocking order followed the announcement of the Bangladeshi Supreme Court upholding the death penalty to war criminals Salauddin Quader Chowdhury and Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed.
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Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber blocked in wake of Supreme Court announcement
Telecom companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) received a letter from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) asking them to block the services with immediate effect.
“I am directed to instruct you to stop the Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp services in your network with immediate effect until further notice,” reads the letter, which was signed by Touseef Shahriar, BTRC assistant director of Systems and Services Division.
Executives at three mobile phone companies and one Internet gateway operator confirmed to the Star that they had received the order. The blocking of the online messaging and calling services was envisioned by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on November 11, when he announced that WhatsApp and Viber could be temporarily blocked when it was deemed appropriate.
Bangladesh struggling to curb activities of Islamist insurgents
The supposed aim of the block is to allow law enforcement to arrest militants and cut down on terrorist activities in the country. Bangladesh is currently attempting to deal with Islamist insurgents, and one group, known as Ansar Bangla, has been linked to ISIS.
A climate of fear has developed in the capital Dhaka, where Islamic fundamentalists have taken to attacking secular bloggers and cultural activists have taken to the streets in protest. This year four bloggers and one publisher have been hacked to death in attacks carried out by Muslim extremists, and there have been countless anonymous threats that have planted the seed of fear in the minds of many.
Prime Minister Hasina said that criminals are using the apps to plan illegal activities. “Therefore, I will suspend operation of these apps for some days time, when needed, in order to arrest the perpetrators,” he said.
The block is not the first time that communications apps have been taken down in Bangladesh. On January 18 this year the government blocked Viber, WhatsApp. Tango, Mypeople and Line, again for security reasons. The apps were unblocked four days later.