DHAKA, BANGLADESH - The Bangladesh government has ordered the closure of 191 websites it accuses of publishing "anti-state news," stoking concerns about media freedom in the South Asian country.
Information Minister Hasan Mahmud told parliament on Monday that the government has instructed the telecoms regulator to close the domains following "reports from intelligence agencies."
He said the sites, which were not named, were "conducting activities that spread confusion among the public.”
Campaigners and foreign governments including the United States have long expressed worries about efforts by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to silence criticism.
Bangladesh's draconian Digital Security Act, under which hundreds of people have been arrested since 2018, has caused particular alarm.
"The government shouldn't try to control the flow of the internet," Faruq Faisel, regional director of media rights watchdog ARTICLE 19 South Asia, said Tuesday.
"The move to block news sites will hamper freedom of expression in the country. It will pave the way of spreading misinformation and disinformation," he said.
Asked about the website blocking order, Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the United Nations secretary general, said freedom of expression "needs to be protected".
Journalists "have a right to be able to operate their news sites freely and openly, and we want to see positive movement in that direction," he told a regular briefing in New York.
The Reporters Without Borders 2022 World Press Freedom Index ranked Bangladesh at 162, worse than Russia (155) and Afghanistan (156).
The Bangladesh government has previously blocked websites several times, notably in December 2018 ahead of national elections.