Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) took down the website of Voice of Journalist BD after the website conducted an online public opinion survey on the popularity of the candidates standing for the upcoming 11th national election.
BTRC banned the website addressed as vojbd.com on the night of April 27, according to a BTRC official.
On the same night, Dhaka Tribune tried contacting BTRC Chairman Shahjahan Mahmood several times over the phone to ask him about the matter. However, he was unreachable at that time. Later, around 9pm, he sent an SMS to this reporter requesting him to send the link for the Voice of Journalist BD website to BTRC.
On April 28, Shahjahan informed the Dhaka Tribune over the phone that they had suspended the Voice of Journalist BD website after complaints from several political leaders.
"If anyone or any portal tries to spread false rumours and thus create divisions and chaos inside the country, it will be banned," he said.
However, he later admitted the website was shut down upon instructions from senior ruling party leaders.
On April 22, Political Advisor to the prime minister and Co-Chairman of Awami League's National Election Conducting Committee, HT Imam, urged BTRC and the Election Commission (EC) to take action against Voice of Journalist BD alleging that the online survey was tarnishing the images of the candidates and creating divisions among them.
Before that, Awami League's Research and Information Secretary, Afzal Hossain, called on senior leaders of the Awami League to contact BTRC and the EC to take action against Voice of Journalist BD for spreading false information against party candidates.
While speaking on this issue to Dhaka Tribune, Afzal said: "Voice of Journalist BD has been using the logo of EC illegally. Besides, this organization does not have any history of institutional activities.
"The organization has ill-intentions," he claimed. "Relations among leaders have been eroded due to their activities."
However, when contacted, representatives from Voice of Journalist BD denied all allegations against them.
The representatives claimed the online survey was done secretly and hence could not be manipulated by third parties.
They said: "We did not think anyone's image would be hurt due to the survey. Only people who were not popular enough in the online poll raised allegations against us.”
"The rest of the candidates praised our efforts and thanked us," said the representatives.
According to Voice of Journalist BD, the initiative was undertaken by volunteers and no funding was solicited from outside parties. No election candidate was contacted to take part in the initiative.
"We wanted to ensure the survey was neutral and encouraged participation from the general public," they said. "And we also ascertained that no one could manipulate the survey. Actually, the main purpose for conducting the survey was to inform political parties about their candidates' popularity and voter perceptions about them."
They claimed the online survey also helped the young generation, who are familiar with the internet and social media, to prepare them for voting in the upcoming election.
"We included the names of all possible candidates aiming to contest in the 11th national election," said the Voice of Journalist BD representatives. "Instead of trying to accomplish any other agenda, we just wanted to inform the possible candidates about the actual scenario of public sentiments."