DHAKA, Bangladesh - Bangladesh blocked dozens of online news sites on Monday, ahead of the country's parliamentary election scheduled for later this month.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) confirmed in a statement that 58 online news sites were ordered to be blocked on Monday for several hours.
Citing "national security" reasons for blocking the websites, the country's telecoms regulator said that the move was part of an operation by the BTRC to scrutinize hundreds of websites ahead of the December 30 election.
Zakir Hossain Khan, the BTRC spokesman said in a statement that the regulator asked International Internet Gateway (IIG) operators to block 58 news sites for a span of 12 hours.
The BTRC spokesman did not elaborate on the security concerns but said that these sites were spreading rumors.
According to local reports, the regulator rescinded the order hours later, only to reissue the order for 54 news portals and websites.
Later, Emdadul Haque, Secretary General of Internet Service Providers' Association of Bangladesh (ISPAB), confirmed that the BTRC asked them to block 54 websites again.
The four websites unblocked after the order was rescinded were poriborton.com, priyo.com, risingbd.com and dhakatimes24.com.
IIG President Sarwar Alam Shikder said, "When an issue is raised to us by the commission which is related to law and order of the country, we are bound to comply."
Meanwhile, Abdul Malek, an official at the ministry said that the 58 sites were found to be "not registered with the information ministry" and therefore their "content was being examined."
Malek pointed out that hundreds of websites were under scrutiny and said, "It is the responsibility of this ministry to bring all news portals under a system so that they can run smoothly."
The BTRC decision comes at a time when the Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government is already facing criticism over new laws that critics have alleged are aimed at curbing press freedom and free speech.
Hasina has also faced criticism for her increasingly authoritarian rule, especially her government's handling of student protests earlier this year.
At the same time, her government has also won widespread praise internationally for allowing in hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled persecution in Myanmar.