New York, July 12, 2023 – Two Bangladeshi social media outlets shuttered by authorities must be allowed to operate freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday, amid mounting indications of a pre-election campaign to silence critical voices.
On Sunday, June 25, the Chittagong district administration in southeast Bangladesh sealed the offices of the privately owned social media-based platforms CplusTV and C Vision and confiscated their equipment, according to a statement by Bangladeshi Journalists in International Media. The two outlets stand accused of “illegally operating without licenses.”
A person familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ anonymously due to fear of reprisals, corroborated this account and alleged that the local authorities acted under the direct orders of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
The outlets were being selectively targeted ahead of the country’s January 2024 national election due to their coverage of politics and human rights in Chittagong, this source added.
“Bangladesh authorities’ sealing of the offices of the social media-based news platforms CplusTV and C Vision and the seizure of their equipment are clearly selective targeting ahead of the upcoming January 2024 national election,” echoed Carlos Martínez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director. “A free and fair election requires unhampered access to information. Authorities must allow both outlets to operate freely and without fear of reprisal.”
The targeting of CplusTV – which continues to broadcast – and C Vision appears to fit into a broader crackdown against media and other critical voices ahead of the polls.
Broadsheet Bengali-language newspaper The Dainik Dinkal stopped publishing in February after the quasi-judicial Bangladesh Press Council upheld a government suspension order.
On Monday, July 10, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warned journalists not to publish news “that will malign the country’s image and hamper its ongoing advancement.”
Authorities shut down Chittagonian-language CplusTV’s office without any prior notice or written order, days before the Eid al-Adha holiday, the person familiar with the case said, adding that authorities did not provide a list of the items seized, contrary to legal requirements.
This source added that CplusTV, which has been active since 2016, is not required to register as an online media outlet under local regulations because it operates exclusively on social media and does not run through a cable operator. CplusTV filed two applications with the Chittagong district commissioner contesting the move, but has not received a response, the person said.
Following CplusTV’s coverage of a gas crisis in Chittagong in May 2023, its owner and editor-in-chief Alamgir Apu was subjected to a smear campaign in state-aligned Bangladeshi media outlets, articles reviewed by CPJ show.
C Vision’s Bengali-language Facebook page, which has around 635,000 followers, last posted on June 24. C Vision did not respond to CPJ’s calls and messages requesting comment.
CPJ called and messaged Bangladesh’s Information Minister Hasan Mahmud for comment but received no reply.