Authorities in Bangladesh have blocked social network Facebook and messaging and voicecall services Whatsapp and Viber after the country’s top court upheld the death sentences of two opposition leaders convicted of atrocities during the 1971 war.
“We’ve ordered the shutdown after we’re instructed by the government,” Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission Shahjahan Mahmud told news agency AFP.
The Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss the final appeals of Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid and Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury clears the way for them to be hanged as early as next week if the president does not grant them clemency.
Mujahid, 67, is the second most senior member of Bangladesh’s largest religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami, and Chowdhury, 66, is a top aide to Khaleda Zia, leader of the main opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
They are among more than a dozen leaders of the opposition alliance who were convicted by a controversial war crimes tribunal set up by the secular government in 2010.
Authorities said they shut down the social media, messaging and voicecall services in measures to prevent Jamaat supporters mobilising to protest against the rulings.
Mahmud told the Dhaka Tribune that the online communication services were blocked “on security grounds”.
Jamaat-e-Islami called a nationwide strike to protest against the court’s decision, declaring Mujahid’s original trial “farcical” and “aimed at eliminating” the party’s leadership.
The tribunal has divided the country, with the opposition branding its trials a sham aimed at eliminating their leaders rather than meting out justice.
International rights groups and legal experts have also criticised it, saying its procedures fall short of international standards.