In the wake of the detention by the Bangladesh military of journalist and blogger Tasneem Khalil, I was interviewed by BBC World Service Radio last night about blogging and the intimidation of bloggers by governments. In addition to talking about Tasneem’s case I cited the case of the Egyptian blogger Monem currently under detention for "anti-state" blogging. Little did I know at the time that the topic would hit close to home the very next day.
Yesterday a commenter calling himself "ABC" posted identical comments on a number of Bangladeshi blogs that were involved in the successful campaign to free Tasneem Khalil. "ABC" posted a similar comment on my blog as well. At the time he posted, the commenter had information about the negotiations to free Tasneem from military custody that was not yet public. He was also posting his comments from Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was widely assumed that he was affiliated with elements within the Bangladesh military.
Today the commenter "ABC" is back. He has posted a threatening comment on a number of Bangladeshi blogs. A check of the IP address he was posting from confirmed that he was the same commenter. Below is what he wrote on one of the blogs that participated in the campaign:
This is ABC. Yes, you could be arrested for your blogs here and DP, but you won’t be. Military knows very well who writes what and what has been discussed in the last 3 months. Very open discussions, critical analyses, criticisms, points/counterpoints. Military believes on freedom of speech and individual rights. At times, very objectionable remarks are also made against military. Those are viewed as ‘personal opinions’ and never interfered. May be some of you are thinking that you are indulging in your intellectual efforts sitting in a different country (a safe place)and you are beyond reach. Very wrong. If military wants to get you, it will get you. In fact, you will struggle on your own to catch the next available flight to Dhaka. But military is not interested on you….or any particular blogger. You have 100% freedom of expressing your views and you are already enjoying it uninterruptedly.
Blogging and sending SMS is no crime (as many has asked this question). In fact blogging and SMSs are the wonders of modern science in effective communication. As long as you use your knife to cut potatoes, you are fine. Try this on cutting somebody’s throat, you are in big trouble.
So you don’t know the content of Tasneem’s SMSs. You don’t know what was found in his computer. You don’t know who else were his contacts apart from you guys. It is obvious, you will scream. Ever seen in movie an FBI action ? Ever heard the term counter-terrorism? Think about the entire thing in cool brain. Is it a very difficult puzzle?
Enjoy your blogging. Say whatever you want to. Criticize or advise any way you want. Nobody will tell you or your family members back home anything. You should all be proud that your military has got appreciations and love in over 2 dozens countries for their professional work. They are not aliens from Mars. They are your brothers, uncles and nephews. They are not against you and they have no interest in stopping your right to speak freely.
Would appreciate if this is shared with your other fellow bloggers. [Emphasis added by me.]
We know that newspaper editors and reporters in Bangladesh have been intimidated. The detention of Tasneem Khalil is the most recent example of intimidation of the press by elements of the Bangladesh military. Now the intimidation has crossed outside the borders of Bangladesh. I am not sure where the line is between innuendo and a prosecutable federal offence for making threats over the internet, but I suspect if the current tone of the commenter continues he will soon cross it. However, that is little solace for many expatriate Bangladeshi bloggers who stood together yesterday, along with many bloggers from all over the world, to help a man thousands of miles away whose freedom and life were in great peril. Those selfless and brave Bangladeshi expatriates shouted to the world yesterday when a man’s voice was being silenced in Bangladesh. Today the same bloggers fear for their loved ones.
Fear and intimidation are the weapons of thugs the world over. They aim to achieve silence. They aim to achieve compliance. All things that are antithetical to human freedom and liberty.