The May and September decisions by the US State Department on visa restriction moves against different categories of Bangladeshi individuals “includes individuals taking measures to undermine the ability of political parties, civil society, the media, or individuals from participating in the electoral process or expressing their political views”, a formal response to a Northeast News questionnaire says.
The State Department’s response (of October 5 via email) was made after Northeast News formally wrote to officials concerned following the blocking of the news portal’s website in Bangladesh by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC). The blocking was effected through Bangladeshi private telecom operators.
According to a State Department spokesperson in Washington, DC, “A free press and informed citizenry are key for any nation and its democratic future. Freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association are the foundation of a healthy democracy”.
For the sake of transparency, the Northeast News places before its readers its questions that were directed at US authorities. The following were the queries:
- Does the US State Department consider the Bangladesh government’s action in blocking Northeast News yet another instance of muzzling the press and infringing the right of the people of Bangladesh to freely access current affairs information?
- Would you characterise this blanket block, as part of the Bangladesh government’s continuing litany of actions against freedom of the press, a violation of any person’s fundamental right to free speech and expression?
- Do you consider the Bangladesh government’s action a step that undermines “the democratic election process” in that country?
- Quite clearly, senior officials of the Bangladesh government, the BTRC and senior executives of mobile operators are “complicit” in taking a concerted action to block Northeast News from its readers in Bangladesh. What steps do you deem to take, especially in the light of the Department of State’s May and September 2023 decision to impose visa restrictions, against individuals in the Bangladesh government, senior public functionaries, BTRC and senior telecos’ executives responsible for muzzling the press and curtailing the inviolable right of people to freely access news in Bangladesh?
- What additional steps can the US State Department take to impress upon the Bangladesh government that it must desist from infringing on the legitimate rights of the media and the people?
- What message would the US State Department give to the people of Bangladesh and the Bangladesh government, in the wake of the series of actions that infringe on media rights and freedoms, especially when the country is headed for elections?
The State Department spokesperson said in response that “The U.S. government strongly supports the robust role of media globally in a vibrant, free democracy. We have raised our concerns on these matters with the Bangladeshi government.
“The visa restriction policy announced in May 2023 applies to Bangladeshi individuals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh. Individuals subject to this policy may include those involved in voter intimidation, individuals who use violence to prevent democratic expression, and individuals involved in vote rigging. Finally, it includes individuals taking measures to undermine the ability of political parties, civil society, the media, or individuals from participating in the electoral process or expressing their political views”.