Bangladesh is notoriously known for prosecuting blogger, journalist and ordinary citizens who raise alarm about mass corruption, graft and money laundering by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her associates. To perpetuate the prosecution and suppressing freedom of speech, Bangladesh bought spyware and technology from Israeli to monitor mobile phones and social media activities of ordinary citizens.
Israeli-made spying tools were bought for Bangladesh intelligence service Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), despite the South Asian country not recognising Israel and banned Bangladeshi citizens from travelling to Israel.
Bangladesh has bought Israeli-made surveillance equipment that can be used to monitor the mobile phones of hundreds of people simultaneously, an Al Jazeera investigation has found.
Documents and statements obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit show that the Bangladesh army purchased the Israeli equipment in 2018 using a Bangkok-based middleman and Bangladeshi military intelligence officers were trained in Hungary by Israeli intelligence experts.
ICT Act And Suppression of Freedom of Speech
Scores of people have been arrested over the past five years in Bangladesh under section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT Act) for criticizing the government, political leaders, and others on Facebook, as well as in blogs, online newspapers, or other social media, Human Rights Watch said.
“The government of Bangladesh acknowledges that the current section 57 of the ICT Act is draconian, and needs to go,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But the new law is hardly an improvement, creating a series of new offences that will undoubtedly be used for years to come against government critics in the country’s highly politicized criminal justice system.”
“The law is clearly inconsistent with Bangladesh’s human rights obligation and an assault on freedom of expression,” said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS civic space research officer.
“It is extremely disturbing that despite repeated calls to amend the law in recent months, parliament has disregarded this and bulldozed it through.” said Benedict.
Section 57 of ICT Act authorizes the prosecution of any person who publishes, in electronic form, material that is fake and obscene; defamatory; “tends to deprave and corrupt” its audience; causes, or may cause, “deterioration in law and order;” prejudices the image of the state or a person; or “causes or may cause hurt to religious belief.” The 2013 amendments eliminated the need for arrest warrants and official permission to prosecute, restricted the use of bail to release detainees pending trial, and increased prison terms if convicted. A new Cyber Tribunal dedicated to dealing with offences under the ICT Act was also established. As a result, the number of complaints to the police, arrests, and prosecutions has soared.
Israeli Equipment and Technology Used By DGFI
The contract Al Jazeera acquired lists the condition that both parties to the sale sign a non-disclosure agreement. It also lists the country of origin for the equipment as Hungary, although secret recordings by Al Jazeera show the middleman explicitly saying the equipment was from Israel.
“The contractor said no way that people in Bangladesh should know that this product comes from Israel,” Al Jazeera’s undercover source, Sami, whose name has been changed for his security, said.
Bangladesh has no diplomatic relations with Israel and trade with it is prohibited. It has the world’s fourth-largest Muslim population and does not allow its citizens to travel there, citing the military occupation of Palestinian lands. Officially, it has said it will not recognize Israel until there is an independent Palestinian state.
Founded by former Israeli spy, PICSIX Limited is based on Even Yehuda 4051113, Israel. According to PICSIX brochure, the surveillance systems is an integrated solutions combining Passive and Active Interception as well as jamming and selective jamming of GSM mobiles and UMTS.
The revelation is part of the Al Jazeera investigation All the Prime Minister’s Men, which exposes the close relationship between a powerful Bangladeshi crime family, which the country’s head of the army belongs to, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The investigation reveals that a key figure in the procurement of military equipment is Haris Ahmed, a convicted criminal and brother of the head of the Bangladesh army, Aziz Ahmed. Haris, who has now returned to Bangladesh, resettled in Hungary in 2015 using a fake passport when he was under an Interpol red notice and wanted in Bangladesh for a murder committed in 1996.
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