Wednesday, October 3, 2007

cyber censorship bangladesh?

As an ominous prequel to the Burma blog protest 4 Oct 07 ( in response to recent events, crackdowns, closure of blogs, internets, and deaths of many protestors):

E-Bangladesh & Rezwan's The Third World View have reported that RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) and BTRC (Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission) members are conducting house to house searches of fast computer connections. They have demanded this information from assorted ISPs (connection providers). Their searches are going beyond supposed searches for VOIP equipment (illegal in Bangladesh), but also seeking users' administrative and user passwords, too. Supposedly Bangladesh's submarine cable for internet services has been cut for the third time by miscreants. During the September riots in Bangladesh, the Govt ordered mobile networks to close and the submarine cable was 'cut' two times, effectively isolating Bangladesh except for people who had land-line phones and dial up computer connections.

Very difficult to teach women (and others) on how to use computers under such conditions (including frequent loadshedding) as well as conduct cyber-commerce-communication for much needed revenues and Bangladesh's development. So should we concentrate educating garment workers who average around five years of education to improve their productivity on low-end garments? In contrast with some nearby countries with garment factories, the vast majority of garment workers do not use computerized machines, but the factory owners, managers do so to receive orders and designs from abroad.

Ironically these reports emerge the day before BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Employers Association) makes its case in Washington, D.C. for maintaining good trade status (GSP--generalized system of preference) with USA despite claims by the AFL-CIO affiliates that few or no labour unions function in factories and EPZs. Bangladeshi newspapers report dramatic declines in the future orders by garment factories and their lowly paid female employees! Orders have gone to other countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, and China. Others have noted discontent among garment workers vs. usual conspiracy theories.

So like the previous attempts to curtail mobile and internet use by the military backed Caretaker government, I hope that this current crackdown ends soon so the the students and Bangladeshi workers can get on with their uncensored learning, use of computers, and improving Bangladesh's presence & productivity in the emerging global-cyber economy. Also the USA, which has poured millions of democracy and women's empowerment dollars into Bangladesh and nearby countries, must acknowledge the increasing prevalence of military backed governments in the region.

(**Notably, E-Bangladesh is edited by Tasneem Khahil, a 'former' Daily Star reporter, who was arrested by GOB agents for a previous Blog posting during January-February and now is in exile in Europe; Rezwan blogs from Germany)

UPDATES: See discussions and latest links as well as Bangladesh print media's silence on these issues b/c many newspaper-publishers are under government scrutiny-investigations-financial

Meanwhile Bangladesh's testimony before the US Trade Commission on GSP status has resulted in not a single story in mainstream USA media, but only in Daily Star coverage. However, garment factory owners and BGMEA have been warned by government advisers to pay salaries and holiday bonuses by 11 Oct 07 to avoid any more protests by garment workers; such protests might deter potential RMG buyers and orders, which are already very limited.

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