Netra News (Bengali: নেত্র নিউজ) is a Sweden-based investigative and public interest journalism[1] website primarily focusing on Bangladesh. The website was launched on December 26, 2019, by Tasneem Khalil, an exiled Bangladeshi journalist currently living in Sweden, who acts as its editor-in chief.[2]

Netra News
Netra News.png
TypeNews website
PublisherBangladesh Media Network
Editor-in-chiefTasneem Khalil
EditorDavid Bergman
LanguageEnglish and Bangla
HeadquartersMalmö, Sweden
Websitehttps://netra.news

It was blocked by authorities in Bangladesh within 72 hours of its inception,[3] with Khalil himself alleging[4] and media reports suggesting that Bangladesh's military intelligence agency, Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), orchestrated the ban.[5]

HistoryEdit

Netra News is run by a grant provided by National Endowment for Democracy,[6] a non-governmental and non-profit organization funded by the U.S. government.

It is a project under Bangladesh Media Network, which is overseen by a board comprising Kerstin Brunnberg (president), a prominent Swedish journalist, Bangladeshi-Australian academic Bina D’Costa (secretary), and Dan Morrison (treasurer), an American journalist.[7]

The website is published in both English and Bangla. Khalil acts as its editor-in-chief, while David Bergman, a journalist who has extensively worked in Bangladesh, is the editor of its English version. Israt Jahan, a Bangladeshi journalist based in Sweden, has joined the news organization on November 1, 2020 as the editor of its Bangla edition.[8]

The website, in its opening editorial, stated that it decided not to name any other journalists associated with it, citing "security concerns."[9]

Website blockEdit

As one of its first reports, the website ran a story[10] alleging that Obaidul Quader, the general secretary of the ruling Awami League party and a cabinet minister, had a collection of luxury watches from brands including Rolex, Louis Vuitton, and Ulysse Nardin, the price of which was not consistent with his publicly disclosed income.[5] The website was blocked days after the story had been published.[11]

In the wake of the ban, the website launched a mirror version based in Google Cloud Firebase Storage, which was also blocked by authorities only to be forced to lift the ban following complaints from app developers who relied on the Google service.[12]

However, the mirror site was blocked again following the publication of a report based on a leaked United Nations memo forecasting up to 2 million deaths in Bangladesh in the COVID-19 crisis in a "no-intervention" scenario.[13] The website of Benar News, a Malaysia-based news agency, was also blocked in Bangladesh following its publication of the story quoting Netra News.[14]

ResponseEdit

The Obaidul Quader exposé triggered a call for investigations from Transparency International Bangladesh,[15] an anti-graft watchdog. The minister subsequently claimed that he had received the watches as gifts.[16]

In January 2020, Netra News published a report accusing Tabith Awal, a candidate of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party in Dhaka mayoral elections, of failing to "disclose ownership of a foreign company in his affidavit to the Election Commission of Bangladesh."[17] Following the publication of the report, AHM Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik, a former justice of Supreme Court of Bangladesh, filed a petition to the high court challenging Awal's candidacy.[18] However, the high court rejected the petition and allowed Awal to contest in the election.[19]

On March 21, 2020, Netra News published a leaked preliminary research report prepared by a group of Bangladeshi and U.S.-based researchers led by Malay Kanti Mridha of BRAC University predicting that Bangladesh faced up to 0.5 million deaths in the COVID-19 crisis without government interventions. The story led the university to launch an internal investigation against Mridha,[20] a move that was condemned by academic freedom activists.[21] The website also subsequently accused the university of "[attempting] to restrict access" to the report by forcing document hosting website Scribd to remove it on copyright grounds from the latter's website despite claiming that it had not authorized the report.[22]

On March 28, 2020, the website leaked a United Nations interagency memo,[23] which predicted up to 2 million deaths in Bangladesh from Covid-19 in a "no-intervention" scenario. Bangladesh's foreign minister, AK Abdul Momen, alleged that the fact that the UN prepared such a memo was "a total violation of the UN charter."[14] The story was widely picked up by global media outlets including The Atlantic,[24] South China Morning Post,[25] and The Australian.[26]

Netra News in May 2020 published an investigative report alleging that Bangladesh's military intelligence hired and employed hackers and online trolls to go against dissenting activists on Facebook. The report was cited by Freedom House in the Bangladesh chapter of its Freedom on the Net 2020 report.[27] In December 2020, Facebook announced that it took actions against a Bangladeshi hacker group.[28]

HarassmentEdit

The mother of Tasneem Khalil, the chief editor, has allegedly faced harassment at the hand of state agencies.

In October 2020, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Asian Human Rights Commission cited in their reports allegations made by Khalil that security officials visited his mother Nazneen Khalil’s residence in Sylhet to question her about his activities.[29] They also allegedly made threats saying that if they decide to visit her home again, their approach may be “different and not nice.”[30]

In a separate incident, the anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh police in June 2021 charged Khalil, among others, for "spreading rumours and carrying out anti-government activities."[31]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Bangladesh journalist's disappearance casts poor light on press freedom". Deutsche Welle. 2020-03-22. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  2. ^ "ABOUT". Netra News — নেত্র নিউজ. Retrieved 2021-07-08.
  3. ^ "Bangladesh blocks Sweden-based Netra News". New Age. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  4. ^ "Free Speech under fire: investigative journalism censored in Bangladesh". Chaos Press. 2020-02-11. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  5. ^ a b "Bangladesh blocks news website accusing minister of corruption". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  6. ^ "Bangladesh blocks Sweden-based news website Netra News". cpj.org. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  7. ^ "ABOUT". Netra News — নেত্র নিউজ. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  8. ^ News, Netra (2020-11-20). "নেত্র নিউজের বাংলা সংস্করণের সম্পাদক ইসরাত জাহান". Medium. Retrieved 2021-07-08.
  9. ^ "Journalism in the public interest". Netra News — নেত্র নিউজ. 2019-12-26. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  10. ^ "A wrist of luxury". Netra News — নেত্র নিউজ. 2019-12-26. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  11. ^ "Bangladesh: Online Surveillance, Control". Human Rights Watch. 2020-01-08. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  12. ^ "BANGLADESH: Muzzling press freedom triggering risks on livelihood of Information Technology professionals". Asian Human Rights Commission. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  13. ^ "Netra News". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  14. ^ a b "Bangladesh Govt Acknowledges Blocking BenarNews Websites". BenarNews. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  15. ^ "TIB asks why minister did not deposit costly watches with the state". Prothom Alo. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  16. ^ "Watch Out: Bangladeshi Minister Comments on His Published Photos with Fancy-looking Timepieces". BenarNews. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  17. ^ "Tabith keeps his mouth shut on reportedly undisclosed company in Singapore". bdnews24.com. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  18. ^ "Former SC Justice Manik demands cancellation of Tabith Awal's candidacy". Daily Sun. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  19. ^ "HC rejects petition seeking cancellation of Tabith's candidacy". The Daily Star. 2020-01-27. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  20. ^ Defranoux, Laurence (2020-04-02). "Coronavirus : le Bangladesh censure les lanceurs d'alerte". Libération.fr (in French). Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  21. ^ "Researcher in trouble for co-authoring Bangladesh Covid-19 projections". Netra News — নেত্র নিউজ. 2020-03-22. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  22. ^ "Brac University attempts to restrict access to Bangladesh Covid-19 report". Netra News — নেত্র নিউজ. 2020-03-26. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  23. ^ McLaughlin, Timothy (2020-04-02). "The Unseen Pandemic". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2020-04-08.
  24. ^ McLaughlin, Timothy. "The Unseen Pandemic". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2021-07-08.
  25. ^ "Warning of 2 million Bangladesh virus deaths 'based on wrong assumption'". South China Morning Post. 2020-04-01. Retrieved 2021-07-08.
  26. ^ "Subscribe to The Australian | Newspaper home delivery, website, iPad, iPhone & Android apps". www.theaustralian.com.au. Retrieved 2021-07-08.
  27. ^ "Bangladesh: Freedom on the Net 2020 Country Report". Freedom House. Retrieved 2021-07-08.
  28. ^ "Taking Action Against Hackers in Bangladesh and Vietnam". About Facebook. 2020-12-11. Retrieved 2021-07-08.
  29. ^ "Crackdown on dissent deepens in Bangladesh - UCA News". ucanews.com. Retrieved 2021-07-08.
  30. ^ "Bangladesh: Stop Intimidating Activists, Victims' Families". Human Rights Watch. 2020-10-24. Retrieved 2021-07-08.
  31. ^ "Police press charges against cartoonist Kishore, 6 others in digital security case". Dhaka Tribune. 2021-06-13. Retrieved 2021-07-08.