Bangladesh blocks Istishon blog, continues suppressing freedom of speech

A popular Bangla community blog named Istishon was blocked by the BTRC (Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission) for users in Bangladesh; this is yet another attack on freedom of speech in the country. Founder and Editor Nur Nobi Dulal said on Monday that many users could not access Istishon since Sunday night and he urged the government to withdraw the “ban” immediately, according to the Dhaka Tribune. Banning and blocking individual and community blogs have become regular phenomena in Bangladesh since 2013. Several atheist bloggers from Somewhere in… blog and other blogs were banned by a government’s order in 2013, four of the bloggers were later arrested under the infamous act 57 of the ICT law for hurting religious sentiment. As a result, the Bangla blog community went in to black out, with no avail. Around the same time, an Islamist blog named Sonarbangla Blog was also banned. Such bans were part of a bigger picture of harsh censorship over public media – that also saw the bans of newspapers and TV channels, as the country was facing a near civil war crisis.

Under this restriction, the Bangla community blogging culture is in decline ever since. Istishon is a rare case in this regard; the community blog platform was launched in early 2013 and since then only increased in popularity. According to Parvez Alam, who regularly writes on Istishon, the blog has millions of followers. On Facebook he writes: “It’s a blog platform read by millions. My own blog alone has more than a hundred of blog posts and almost half a million views. Now the blog is not accessible anymore for Bangladeshi viewers, being another victim of severe censorship at the hand of Bangladeshi Government.” Some consider Istishon as a secular and left leaning blogging platform, but it actually is a blogging platform where bloggers with diverse world views speak their minds, some of them are also Islamists. Bangladeshi bloggers, writers and activists of all kinds of alignment are protesting against the blocking of the website. Asad Ali, a popular Islamist writer wrote: I am writing in Istishon blog for the last couple of years… A platform that generally has all sorts of bloggers, some theists, some atheists, some belong to Awami League, others to BNP or Jamaat. So there will always be some blog posts that criticize religion or the Government…I condemn such an imprudent decision by the government and ask the Government to unblock the site.

Acute Censorship has become part and parcel of the difficult reality Bangladeshi society is facing in recent years. The 73-year-old atheist writer Shamsuzzoha Manik languishes in prison since February 15 2016, for publishing a book that allegedly hurts religious sentiments. He was arrested under act 57, which does not give him right to bail, and if found guilty, he faces 14 years of jail. Recently, a leftist student leader named Dilip Roy was also arrested under the infamous ICT act, for criticizing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Facebook regarding her statement on the ongoing Rampal Power Station  project near Sundarban, the largest mangrove forest in the world – yet another example of the ICT law being used to silent critics of the Government. Currently, Dilip Roy is simply being held in the jail without any chance for bail.

Arresting vocal critics of the social, religious and political status quo of the country and holding them in jail for an indefinite period has become common in Bangladesh; all kind of critics are under such persecution. Iftekhar Jamil, a popular young Islamist writer was also arrested recently and since then was not granted bail. Police charged him for being a member of Islami Chatra Shibir, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh. Although the organization is not an illegal entity in Bangladesh, the police have been extra hard on its members in recent years and have arrested many just for being involved with the organization. In Jamil‘s case, he had no affiliation with the organization. Calling him a Shibir member was just an excuse to arrest him.

We condemn the blocking of Istishon and ask for its immediate unblocking. This situation does not only undermine the freedom of speech in Bangladesh, but will also make things worse by taking the country in a downward spiral. We want the release of Dilip Roy, Iftekhar Jamil and Shamsuzzoha Manik. We demand a revised ICT law and the abolition of the draconian act 57.

Read more: “Istishon blog blocked for Bangladesh users” in the Dhaka Tribune

“Everybody has a story to tell”

On the 21st of September – The International Day of Peace – The Hague Peace Projects organized a storytelling event called ‘Living Library’. Peace activists from different conflict areas around the world told their story and explained why they decided to dedicate themselves to peace building. But not only they told their story. Also the audience were invited to volunteer as a ‘book’, so that other people could ‘borrow’ them for a while and hear their story.

dsc_0914As an introduction to this event three speakers shortly told the audience what had made them decide to commit themselves to peacebuilding. The first speaker, Lisanne spoke about her research in Indonesia about the role of religion in a peacebuilding process. She discovered that the women of the project who lived very segregated along religious lines, were very brave to overcome these segregated boundaries by visiting each other, together cleaned religious buildings, and organise activities to show the neighbourhood. With this they showed that they could live together as Muslims and Christians. The second speaker was Bedel, a kurd, born in Turkey but living in the Netherlands since a young age. He told a story about how he sees that Kurds and Turks in the Netherlands regularly don’t talks about sensitive issues and often have a hostile attitude towards each other. His committed himself to strengthen the relationship among both communities. The third speaker was Bashi, originally from DR Congo. He shared a very personal story about his activism in Congo and why he had to flee to the Netherlands. Also, he told the audience that he was very happy to be able to tell his story since he don’t often has the opportunity to talk about this.

To bring the audience in the mood to also share their story, they were asked to think about a moment in their life where the felt they were contributing to a better world. What where the doing, and for whom? How did they feel about it? People could write a title for their story on a piece of paper and form groups of people who were interested in this particular book. In two rounds everybody got the opportunity to listen, to talk and to ask questions. In the wrap-up of the event we ask the audience to give a small reaction on the evening, and everybody was very positive. They realised that everybody has a  story to tell, and some people told us they were surprised by how easy it was to trust strangers to tell a very personal story.

Elections in Somalia: Towards sustainable peace?

In light of the coming elections in Somalia, The Hague Peace Projects and Nabaddoon Yahya Foundation are organizing a discussion meeting about the political changes and the potential for peace in the country.

The event will start with three speeches in which the speakers will give their views on different subjects; the federal system, the 4.5 clan system and its impact on the peace process. The speakers are Ismail Moalim, Somalia expert,  Shamsa Said, director of SONPCCAN and Yahye Ali, director of the Nabaddoon Yahye Foundation. Besides the speches there is enough room for questions and discussion, and you listen to Suugaan and spoken word by Jawahir Shire and Qali Nur.

Date: Saturday, October 1
Time: from 13:30 till 17:00
Location: 3rd floor Paviljoensgracht 20, The Hague
Admission: free
Language: Dutch (questions or summaries can be in other languages)

Global Youth Rising – International Youth Peace Forum 2016

Two member of the HPP staff joined the Global Youth Rising 2016 in Romania, 10 days of intensive trainings, discussions, workshops and practical strategic planning with organisations, activists, trainers and practitioners from all over the world working in the field of peacebuilding, conflict transformation, youth participation and empowerment and much, much more.

Besides all the stories that have been told, all the lessons learned and experiences shared, the  participants also joined or stared concrete actions. For example a video clip they made in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement , a video for 1 billion Rising, and statements in reaction to the terrorist attack in Nice.

One of the activities during the forum was the Living Library, a tool for stimulating storytelling, dialogue and connection, which inspired Nadine and Lisanne to organise such an event in The Netherlands as well. Curious about what is a Living Library? Join our session on the 21st of September!

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Living Library : Sharing Stories about Peace

On the 21st of September – The International Day of Peace – The Hague Peace Projects organizes a storytelling event. Peace activists from different conflict areas around the world tell their story and explain why they decided to dedicate themselves to peace building.

But not only they will tell their story. Also you as an audience are invited to volunteer as a ‘book’, so that other people can ‘borrow’ you for a while and hear your story. What does peace mean to you? How can we create a peaceful society and what or who inspires you to be active? You are welcome to share your personal message or experience, read other ‘living books’ and listen to inspiring speeches .

Our speakers come from many countries, like DR Congo, Turkey, The Netherlands and Bangladesh.

When: 21 september
Where: 3rd floor, Paviljoensgracht 20, Den Haag
What time: 7PM – 10PM
Entrance: 3,- (Cash)
Language: Speakers English, living library in different languages

WTHX #3 Peace, Justice, Security + Code

On Thursday 22 September 2016, professionals in the fields of peace and justice will meet coders, developers, artists, philosophers and designers during the third edition of WTHX.

WTHX (‘WhatTheHacks’) is a crossover between a hackathon and a think tank and will take place in the city centre of the Hague. In small multidisciplinary teams more than 100 thinkers and makers will assemble for twelve hours of ideation and co-creation during which they will formulate questions and prototype potential solutions for tomorrow’s problems. An integrated programme led by experts will provide depth to broaden ideas and views and stimulate the participants to come up with fresh answers.

WTHX stimulates curiosity, expands new imagery and triggers participants into realizing new solutions and collaborations.

The Hague Peace Projects will participate and moderate the session.

For updates about the program and about speakers, please check the event.

HPP on air: Turks and Kurds in the Netherlands

Our colleagues and program coordinators, Mirko and Tayfun were on the radio last week, not once but twice. In the first session they talked about the interaction and relation between Kurds and Turks in The Netherlands; what is the current situation, what do they have accomplished last year and what are their plans for the future. The item was well chosen called: the way to reconciliation.

Here’s a link to the radio broadcasting

The second interview was with Tayfun and Entrepreneur Cemil Yilmaz about the tensions among Dutch Turks after the coup in Turkey in July.  Yilmaz noticed that the tention is also between Turks and Dutch society, because very quickly people and media are portraying people as ‘Erdogan-hugger’, traitor or as poorly integrated. Tayfun concluded with stating that “it is time to work on Dutch citizenship. It’s time to invest in people.”

Listen here to the show