Netizen Report: Are Blogger Assassinations Becoming Routine in Bangladesh?

Demonstrators in Dhaka, Bangladesh, renounce the killing of blogger Ananta Bijoy Das. Photo by Mohammad Asad, copyright Demotix.

Demonstrators in Dhaka, Bangladesh, renounce the killing of blogger Ananta Bijoy Das. Photo by Mohammad Asad, copyright Demotix.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Bangladeshi science writer and blogger Ananta Bijoy Das was murdered earlier this week by a group of three or four masked people wielding machetes in Sylhet, the country’s fifth largest city. Al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent has claimed responsibility for Das’ murder, according to tweets by extremist group Ansar Bangla Team. “Another file closed! Stay tuned for next target,” the statement read.

This marks the third such killing this year of a writer who advocated secular thought. On March 30, another blogger who criticized extremist religious groups, Washiqur Rahman, was hacked to death in Dhaka. Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy was attacked and killed by two madrassa students on February 26. Both Roy’s and Rahman's cases are under review by judicial authorities. All of these killings appear to have been ordered by religious extremist groups.

Read more of our special coverage: Bloggers Under Fire: The Fatal Consequences of Free Thinking in Bangladesh

A Muslim-majority country, Bangladesh is officially secular, but religious extremists have repeatedly targeted people who have criticized religious views or religious political parties in the past decade. All three bloggers’ names appeared on a list of 84 bloggers deemed atheist or blasphemous that Islamic hardliners submitted to the government in 2013. And the question on many bloggers’ minds now is: Who is next?

Iran is blocking women (and Justin Bieber) on Instagram

Iran is developing “intelligent filtering” capabilities over Instagram’s API that enable authorities to filter select content on the social media platform rather than block the platform wholesale, according to new research from Global Voices Iran Editor Mahsa Alimardani and developer Frederic Jacobs. Much of the content blocked comes from major fashion designers, and women are much more likely than men to be blocked. One critical exception: Justin Bieber. This particular filtering approach relies on the lack of an HTTPS connection between Instagram’s servers and its mobile application. The researchers anticipate that when Instagram shifts to HTTPS, these intelligent filtering capabilities will likely become obsolete.

Censorship and ‘The Real Singapore’

Just in time for World Press Freedom Day, the Singapore government ordered the shutdown of socio-political website the Real Singapore for publishing content deemed “objectionable.” According to Singapore’s Media Development Authority, the order was made due to the publication of several articles intended to “incite anti-foreigner sentiment.” Though the site was widely criticized for its xenophobia, a number of Singaporeans questioned whether the ruling would be an effective way of curbing anti-foreign sentiments, and called the action excessive.

Facebook user deported from Philippines for racist comments

Prasertsri Kosin, a Thai citizen also known as Koko Narak on social media, was deported from the Philippines after making reportedly racist comments on Facebook. According to a commissioner of the Philippine Bureau of Immigration, “While the Philippines respects freedom of expression, we in the Bureau cannot tolerate or allow abusive and foul language, especially coming from foreigners as against our own people.” A group of Filipino workers in Thailand have responded critically to the deportation, claiming it undermines the Philippines’ commitment to free speech: “Offensive, hateful and downright irresponsible as the [statements] are, they were not criminal.”

China and Russia shake hands on cybersecurity

During a trip to Russia as an at VE Day celebrations, Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a raft of cooperative treaties covering finance, energy, and cooperation in cyberspace. Russia and China have agreed to be cyberspace allies—promising not to hack each other and to counter destabilizing threats from the Internet together. The two countries have long been champions of “sovereignty” in cyberspace. Indeed, this week China posted a draft national security law that cements that very concept in legislation.

Are US allies trying to one-up the NSA on mass surveillance?

Motivated by an attack on Canada’s parliament last year, Canada’s House of Commons is considering a bill that would make the promotion of terrorism online and offline illegal. The bill would increase the country’s intelligence agency powers and give Canada’s intelligence agencies the ability to operate overseas and to make preventive arrests. It now moves on to Canada’s Senate, where the act is likely to be approved in June.

Meanwhile in France, the lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a new bill that would enable its intelligence services to install recording devices in people’s homes, cars, and private space, including bugging computers, cellphones, and other digital devices. The bill would also establish a government right of surveillance that would apply to communications between people in France and those outside the country with minimal judicial oversight. The bill is likely to pass its next vote in the Senate, though more than 800 Internet companies and human rights groups have launched a campaign against the legislation, claiming the legislation creates a “French Big Brother.”

For once, a win on privacy

A United States federal appeals court ruled that the National Security Agency’s phone metadata collection program “exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized” under the PATRIOT Act. This is a limited victory: the court sidestepped the issue of whether the spying was constitutional, and the case is unlikely to reach the Supreme Court before Congress decides whether to extend the Patriot Act. But it’s an important one, as it puts greater pressure on Congressional leaders to make changes to the provisions of the law, which expires on June 1.

No more cloud service for Tor (at least for now)

The Tor project discontinued its Tor Cloud service on May 8 due to the level of maintenance required to keep the software functional. Tor Cloud gave people a user-friendly way to provide bridges that would help people access the uncensored Internet, but it contained a number of significant bugs—and the nonprofit lacked the resources to fix it. The developers note, however, that there remain plenty of other ways to help people access an uncensored Internet.

Netizen Activism: “Their Freedom is Their Right”

A coalition of human rights organizations this week launched a campaign to raise awareness about prisoners of conscience in the Arab World and to promote the Internet as a space for open discussion. The “Their Freedom is Their Right” campaign is a collaboration of Egypt's Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the Maharat Foundation in Lebanon, and International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) network. The campaign hopes to put pressure on governments and promote protection and acceptance for the exercise of public criticism.

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