Internet users in Bangladesh, as in India and Sri Lanka, enjoy partial freedom in the subcontinent.
This is against the backdrop that there is no freedom at all for those who want to express their opinion online, said a new survey of a United States-based Freedom House (FH).
For partial freedom, Bangladesh obtained 49 points out of 100 earmarked for countries having no freedom at all for the internet users, said the study.
It was conducted by the FH between May 2012 and April 2013, among 60 countries.
The FH is an independent private think-tank that supports the expansion of freedom throughout the world, operating from its headquarters in Washington, DC.
The report is the fourth in its series and the previous edition, covering 47 countries, was published in September 2012.
According to the study, there are 29 countries including Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka where internet users enjoy partial freedom. But in 14 other countries including Pakistan, Myanmar, Iran and Saudi Arabia, there is no freedom at all for the internet users.
However, it said Bangladesh was among the countries including Azerbaijan and Turkey that had over the past year significantly stepped up arrests of users for their online activism and posts, said the study released globally last week.
“And earlier this year in Bangladesh, several bloggers were charged with harming religious sentiments under the country’s Information Communication Technology (ICT) Act,” said the study.
If the charges brought under the ICT Act, are proved, offenders are likely to be jailed for up to 10 years. But the law was amended in August to increase the maximum penalty to 14 years.
The study revealed that there are 17 countries where internet users enjoy absolute freedom. The group of countries is led by Iceland that obtained 6.0 marks among others including Estonia getting 9 marks, Germany and the US both scoring 17 marks each in series.
Among the 29 countries where internet users enjoy partial freedom, Nigeria leads with 31 marks while Brazil and South Korea occupy the second and third position with 32 marks each. In this group, India is ahead of Bangladesh with 47 marks, while Sri Lanka lags behind Bangladesh with 58 marks.
Iran with 91 marks leads the group of countries where there is no freedom at all for the internet users. China and Cuba with 86 marks each have been placed after Iran as the two countries are without internet freedom.
The study said 2013 was the year when thousands of websites were either closed or censored, mostly in Pakistan and Venezuela.
In June 2013, revelations made by former contractor Edward Snowden about the US government’s secret surveillance activities took centre-stage in the American and international media, the study said.
As part of its anti-terrorism effort, the US National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting communications data on Americans and foreigners on a much greater scale than previously thought, it said.
However, the world’s attention is focused on Snowden and US surveillance. It prompted important discussions about the legitimacy and legality of such measures. Disconcerting efforts to both monitor and censor internet activity have been taking place in other parts of the world with increased frequency and sophistication.
In some countries, even posting a video of a cynical rap song could draw the police to a user’s door, the FH study said.
Although democratic states generally do not target political speech, several have sought to implement ‘disproportionate’ restrictions on content they perceive as harmful or illegal, such as pornography, hate speech, and pirated media.
Of the 60 countries assessed, 34 have experienced a negative trajectory since May 2012. Further policy deterioration was seen in authoritarian states such as Vietnam and Ethiopia. There the downgrades reflected new government measures to restrict free speech, new arrests, and harsh prison sentences imposed on bloggers for posting articles that were critical of the authorities.