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Censorship: Bangladesh throttles the entire internet before parliamentary elections

The murder of a government supporter and further arrests of opposition members have overshadowed the end of the election campaign in Bangladesh. A supporter of the ruling Awami League was beaten to death by supporters of the opposition party BNP on Thursday evening in the northeastern town of Sylhet, police said Friday. Two BNP supporters were arrested. The BNP rejected the report, saying the man was killed during a conflict among Awami League supporters.

It is the third Awami League supporter to have been killed since the start of the election campaign in November. The BNP claims that eight of its supporters were killed in clashes. According to police and BNP, 19 opposition activists were also arrested when police and paramilitaries stormed the campaign office of a BNP candidate and several villages in the south of the country on Friday.

A new parliament is elected in Bangladesh on Sunday. Shortly before the end of the election campaign, the authorities throttled the Internet: The telecoms regulator has called on providers to temporarily stop the powerful 3G and 4G mobile networks on Thursday evening “to prevent the spread of propaganda and misinformation over the Internet,” a government official said in a recent interview, according to information.

After a ten-hour break, the powerful mobile phone networks initially worked again on Friday, but there could be a renewed suspension of fast data transmission in the course of the day. The 3G and 4G networks allow fast Internet surfing and the transmission of moving images and large files.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is aiming for a fourth term in office. An opposition alliance led by the Nationalist Party (BNP) is challenging her. During the election campaign thousands of government opponents were arrested. BNP leader and former head of government Khaleda Zia is serving a 17-year prison sentence on corruption charges.

Because the BNP was ignored by the dominant media, the party relied on social media such as Facebook in its election campaign. 100 million people are called to vote on Sunday. 92 million people in the South Asian country use the Internet.

About Bangladesh

Bangladesh is located in South Asia and, with an area of almost 144,000 km², is a small, very densely populated country. It borders India to the west, north and east and Myanmar to the southeast. In the south, Bangladesh lies on the Bay of Bengal.

About 90% of the country is flat lowland, only in the southeast lies the hill and mountain landscape of the Chittagong Hills (highest elevation is the Keokradong with 1 230 m). Coming from the north, the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers flow into Bangladesh and form a multitude of tributaries and arms. In the southern part of the country, the rivers form the so-called Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, which covers an area of approx. 56,000 km². In the delta area lie the Sundarbans, a landscape characterised by countless oxbow lakes, small islands and large mangrove forests, which is one of the largest wetlands in the world.

Every year in spring, the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers carry the meltwater from the Himalayas with them, and the summer monsoons beginning in May (until October) and the resulting rainfall flood almost the entire country within a short time. On the one hand, the soil is constantly supplied with new nutrients and is very fertile. On the other hand, the floods demand a large number of human lives every year.

Political system

Since the constitutional reform of September 1991, Bangladesh has become a parliamentary democracy again (after the constitution of 1972, a presidential republic ruled). The head of state is the president elected for five years (Iajuddin Ahmed, since 2002), whose office is largely limited to representative functions (one-off re-election possible). The executive is in the hands of the prime minister. President Ahmed declared a state of emergency in February 2007 after serious unrest. Since then there has been a transitional government headed by Fakhruddin Ahmed as head of government.

The unicameral parliament (Jatiya Sangsad) has 300 seats; the deputies are elected every five years by the people as representatives of the individual regions. Citizens at the age of 18 have the right to vote.

The main parties are the Bengali National Party (BNP), the Awami League and the Islamic League. Bangladesh is divided into six administrative units.

Economy

Bangladesh’s most important economic sector is agriculture, which employs just over half of the working population. Micro-enterprises with subsistence farming are the most common. On the one hand, climatic conditions allow up to three harvests per year in some cases, but on the other hand storms and floods repeatedly lead to devastating crop losses. Rice fields account for about 80% of the area under cultivation, and pulses, tobacco, various types of fruit and tea are also cultivated. Jute, which accounts for almost a quarter of the total export volume, is the main crop used for exports.

Fishing is also very important and has a share in exports. In order to meet the needs of its own population, food must be imported. Other imported goods include machinery, chemical products, steel and iron, clothing and fossil fuels.

Bangladesh has few natural resources, and natural gas and coal are mined. The manufacturing industry is poorly developed: Small businesses are more common, often with children working. The few large plants produce jute and textiles for export.

Since Bangladesh has to import considerably more goods than it can export, the country has an extremely high foreign trade deficit and is dependent on foreign aid and the foreign exchange remitted by Bangladeshi living abroad. Imports come mainly from China, India and Kuwait; exports go to the USA and 12% to Germany.

Thanks to the consistent liberalization of the economy and government support programs since the constitutional reform, industrial production has been able to grow (about 27 % of GDP, which in turn grew by an average of 5 % per year). However, the numerous politically motivated strikes and extensive corruption, which also discourage investors, mean setbacks for economic growth. Tourism hardly plays a role in Bangladesh.