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Internet shut down in Bangladesh following death penalty sentences

Thursday 19 November 2015, by SIGNIS

Dhaka, Brussels, November 19th, 2015 (SIGNIS/Ucanews). A Bangladesh Supreme Court decision to uphold war crimes death sentences against two senior politicians sparked a temporary nationwide shutdown of the internet.

The court on Nov. 18 dismissed the appeals of Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, former secretary-general of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, and Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a senior figure in the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the country’s second largest political group.

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Protesters call for the death penalty for convicted war criminals in Dhaka in 2014. (Photo by Stephan Uttom)

A war crimes tribunal sentenced Mojaheed, 67, and Chowdhury, 66, to death in July and October 2013 respectively, after they were found guilty of war crimes including abduction, torture, rape and murder, during the country’s 1971 war of independence.

Within an hour of the Nov. 18 ruling, the government imposed a temporary blockade on the Internet and a complete ban on several social media sites including Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber, while Mojaheed and Chowdhury’s supporters called for a nationwide strike. The Internet was restored about 90 minutes later, while social media sites remained blocked.

Officials said the shutdown was necessary for "security reasons." "In response to requests by law enforcement agencies, social sites have been blocked temporarily for security reasons. We ask people to accept this temporary measure for their safety and security," Bengali daily Prothom Alo quoted Post and Telecommunications Minister Tarana Halim as saying.

Christian leaders welcomed the Supreme Court ruling, but questioned the social media blackout. "Christians can’t support the death of a human being at the hand of another human being," said Nirmol Rozario, secretary of the Bangladesh Christian Association. "Yet, we welcome the verdicts for the sake of justice and healing."
Father Joyanto S. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ social communication commission, questioned the timing of the blackout. "There have been several sensitive incidents like blogger and publisher killings and the Shia festival bombing, but there were no such steps taken then. We are confused as to why the government is doing this now," the priest said.

Both Mojaheed and Chowdhury could face imminent execution unless they seek clemency from President Abdul Hamid. In a statement after the verdict, acting Jamaat chief Mokbul Ahmed called the case against Mojaheed "false and fabricated." "The war crimes trial is a government conspiracy to eliminate the Jamaat leadership," he said. Bangladesh Nationalist Party leaders have not commented on the ruling against Chowdhury.

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