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Getting tough on pornography.

The Bangladeshi government has launched a campaign against objectionable Internet content by blocking 560 pornography websites, most of which are locally hosted. Internet service providers, gateway and mobile service providers were given a list of these websites, which has yet to be disclosed to the media.

Earlier this year, Bangladeshi authorities indicated their intention to block porn sites, which provoked mixed reactions. According to Tarana Halim, the State Minister of Posts and Telecommunication, easy access to pornography and offensive content is creating a negative social impact on all the citizens, including adolescents.

According to Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, the number of Internet users in the country has risen to more than 62 million (out of a population of approximately 160 million). Ninety-five per cent of those online access the Internet via mobile devices. And almost 30 per cent of mobile data is reportedly used to visit porn sites. A recent survey by Manusher Jonno Foundation, an NGO, found that almost 77 per cent of the capital's schoolchildren watch pornography via mobile phone and other means.

In November 2016, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication formed a committee whose mandate is to make recommendations to restrict access to the porn sites. Thus far, it appears its primary solution has been to propose blocking such websites.

The committee submitted the list of 560 porn websites that were recently blocked. The ban instigated mixed reactions from citizens. Blogger Arifur Rahman in a Facebook post wrote: "When a girl with ugly religious guilt have sex for the first time with a boy filled with anticipation from watching Caucasian skilled porn artists perform weird and unreal acts, the boy faces a wall of disappointment and the girl breaks down from the unreal demand of the boy. The girl hates her unexplored sexuality more than ever.

The result is not good for anyone. We need healthy sexuality, it has significant connection with good health.

B M Mainul Islam, an Assistant Professor at Institute of Information Technology, University of Dhaka wrote: The truth is, whether it is generated in the country or abroad, is not the issue. If you can't block all sites, those who need to find a porn made in Mars will find it. There is no doubt that porn is a problem. Whether it is a priority now-is something to consider. The decisions are being taken, I did not get the chance to read them in detail, so I cannot comment. However, it is certain that these decisions are not data driven. At least this is what it seems from reading the newspaper reports.

While the Ministry was waiting for the report by the committee, a misquote of the State Minister for Posts and Telecommunication earlier created confusion and divided people in Bangladesh. Media misrepresented Telecommunications Minister Tarana Halim, quoting her as saying that authorities devised a mechanism that would expose porn consumers, an approach she believed would deter people from logging into porn sites, for fear they would be exposed.

The news created confusion and generated angry reactions from people. On 13 December the Minister published a statement on Facebook, explaining that she had been misquoted: I have never mentioned that the list of names of porn website visitors will be published. Technically it is not possible. We're bound and committed to protecting private information and identity of people.

Pornography and the law in Bangladesh

In 2012, the Bangladeshi government approved an anti-pornography law which includes prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines up to half a million Taka. The Pornography Control Act prohibits "carrying, exchanging, using, selling, marketing, distributing, preserving, filming" pornography in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority country, where many people have expressed concerns about the spread and consumption of online pornography. But it is also a democracy.

It appears that the government is focused on banning porn sites in order to "protect young people and women from pornography". But many in Bangladesh believe the government is trying to set standards of public morality. There is also no guarantee that blocking certain pornography sites will actually decrease porn consumption in the country. As one commenter put it, the government "needs to focus more on providing sex education to its citizens instead of hunting down porn sites."

Bangladesh has been experiencing a rapid rise in the number of mobile internet users with the latest figure reaching above 66.862 million.

According to the BTRC website, the total number of the country's internet subscribers reached 63.91 million at the end of July, 2016.

Data showed that a total of 60.03m people use internet services on their smartphones, rising from 59.65m in June.

The number of fixed-line internet users was 3.77m in July while the number of WiMAX subscribers dropped to 100,000 from 110,000 a month earlier. The figures represent the number of active subscribers only, BTRC said.

A subscriber using internet for the past 90 days is considered an active subscriber. Earlier data showed the number of internet users increased to 54.1m in December 2015 from 53.9m in the previous month.

The increase of the number was attributed to the withdrawal of Facebook block in November. But the World Bank ran counter to the statistics of the regulatory body as they were released in January this year. The global money lender put the number of internet users in the country at 12m only. The government, however, dismissed the "World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends." On November 18 last year, BTRC blocked Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber, mypeople, Line and Tango across the country on security grounds.

After suspension of popular social media site Facebook, the number of internet users dropped 717,000 to 53.9m from 54.6m in October.

On the other hand, the number of mobile phone subscribers increased 557,000 to 133.7m in December 2015 from 133.1m in November.

According to the BTRC statistics, the total number of mobile internet users dropped 863,000 in November from 52.3m in October.

It also affected e-commerce and Facebook-based trading due to closure of the popular social network site.
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Publication:Flare
Geographic Code:9BANG
Date:Jan 31, 2017
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