https://www.accessnow.org:443/keepiton-bangladesh-btrc/
Image: Taxonomy of internet shutdowns

Open letter: authorities and telecom providers in Bangladesh must maintain unhindered internet access for all

To: The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) 

CC: The Board, Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB)

 

Subject: Open letter: authorities and telecom providers in Bangladesh must maintain unhindered internet access for all

 

Respected Chairperson and members of the BTRC and AMTOB, 

We, the undersigned organizations, and members of the #KeepItOn coalition — a global network of over 280 organizations from 105 countries working to end internet shutdowns — write to urgently appeal to you, the BTRC and all relevant authorities, and telecommunication service providers, to maintain unfettered access to the internet for all, and to protect people’s fundamental rights and freedoms especially in times of protest. Open, secure, reliable, and accessible internet is vital to exercise and protect human rights.

In direct violation of people’s human rights in Bangladesh, internet connectivity has been reportedly slowed down over the last few weeks, with a perceived link to the ongoing and imminent protests by the opposition party, including on December 10, 2022, which, ironically, is International Human Rights Day. Such throttling of internet access and undermining of human rights is taking place amid a continuing crackdown by government and law enforcement agencies to quell dissent. In a report unpacking trends during protests across more than 100 countries, CIVICUS — a global civil society alliance —  highlighted attacks by Bangladesh government forces against protests organized by students, the opposition, and workers, and called on the government to ”halt its assault on the right to protest.”

Impeding access to the internet harms human rights 

Unhampered connectivity is crucial for the protection of human rights such as freedom of opinion and expression, access to information, freedom of the press, and freedom of peaceful assembly. Restricting internet access and use in any manner disrupts the flow of information, exacerbates tensions, and potentially instigates or conceals violence and human rights violations perpetrated by both state and non-state actors. 

Shutting or slowing down access to the internet directly interferes with all aspects of people’s daily lives including their ability to express views and opinions freely, communicate with loved ones, freely and openly organize online, obtain education and healthcare, and conduct business. Shutdowns make it extremely difficult for journalists, the media, and human rights defenders to carry out their work, thereby denying people both inside and outside of the affected country access to credible information.

Shutting down internet or social media access during protests and crises is disproportionate and amounts to collective punishment, depriving people of fundamental rights and weakening democracy. This cannot be justified as a tactical response.  Such measures are reflective of an intention to thwart free expression and control narratives. Authorities and service providers in Bangladesh are under an obligation to refrain from issuing and acting on orders that undermine international human rights standards and debilitate a free and democratic society.

International human rights frameworks condemn internet shutdowns 

Slowing down internet connection to quell dissent is a direct violation of the fundamental right to freedom of expression, provided in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Internet shutdowns are strongly condemned in international convenings including the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 47/16, that denounces “the use of Internet shutdowns to intentionally and arbitrarily prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information”.  A recent Human Rights Council report,  Internet shutdowns: trends, causes, legal implications and impacts on a range of human rights, urges  authorities to not impose  internet shutdowns. Moreover, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that “switching off the internet causes incalculable damage, both in material and human rights terms” while “the costs to jobs, education, health and political participation virtually always exceed any hoped for benefit.”

Telecommunications and internet service providers are obligated to safeguard human rights

Telecommunications and internet service providers are under an obligation to resist and challenge orders to restrict access in terms of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises to respect human rights, prevent or mitigate potential harms, and provide remedy for harms they cause or contribute to operate. 

We respectfully call on the BTRC and all public authorities and telecommunication and internet service providers operating in Bangladesh to not take any actions, including during protests, that would interfere with internet access, and to immediately end any ongoing restrictions

 

ORGANIZATIONS

Access Now
African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
African Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
Africa Open Data and Internet Research  Foundation
ARTICLE19
ARTICLE19 South Asia
Centre for Community Empowerment and Development (Malawi)
Center for Media Studies & Peacebuilding (CEMESP)
Common Cause Zambia
International Press Centre (IPC)
JCA-NET(Japan)
Kijiji Yeetu (Kenya)
Manushya Foundation
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Office of civil freedoms
PEN America
Usuarios Digitales
WITNESS
Wikimedia Uganda
Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)

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