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In Targeted Cyber-Attack, Bangladeshi Author Taslima Nasrin Declared ‘Dead’ On Facebook

In what seems like an attack on Bangladeshi atheists, as many as five campaigners with significant social media following are being shown as ‘dead’. But why?

File photo of Taslima Nasrin.
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In what appears to be a result of a coordinated cyber-attack on the social media accounts of atheist and feminist Bangladeshi authors and bloggers, exiled Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin has been declared by Facebook as ‘dead’ for the second time in just two days.

Going by Nasrin’s verified Facebook profile, she had died on January 18. “I am very much alive,” Nasrin wrote on Twitter soon after, asking Facebook authorities to give her back access to her account. The account was restored in the evening. But only for a couple of days.

On Thursday morning, she again found that her Facebook account claimed her to be dead. People visiting her profile are greeted with the following, “Remembering Taslima Nasrin. We hope people who love Taslima will find comfort in visiting her profile to remember and celebrate her life.”

This happened only a day after Nasrin wrote on Facebook – after getting back access to her account after 21 hours of ‘death’ – that Facebook’s action was a result of ‘provocations by Jihadi elements.’

Nasrin, who was forced to leave Bangladesh 27 years ago under threats from Islamist radicals, has been living in New Delhi since 2007 after Islamist fundamentalists forced the West Bengal government to pressurise her to leave Kolkata.  

On Thursday, she wrote on Twitter, “Facebook… again buried me alive today. Jihadis make my fake death certificates, inform fb, fb then memorialises my account. It seems Jihadis exploit fb. I need my account back, & need protection, so that jihadis won't be able to vanish my FB. (sic)”

 

The Facebook profiles of exiled atheist Bangladeshi blogger and human rights activist Asaduzzaman Noor, Dhaka-based atheist blogger Mehran Sanjana and London-based atheist and human rights activist Lopa Rahman met with the same fate. Kaniz Fatema, the wife of the exiled, atheist Bangladeshi blogger Asif Mohiuddin, also found her Facebook profile claiming her to be dead.

Sanjana has been associated with the pioneering Bengali rationalist website, Muktomona, while Rahman is associated with the rationalist website, shongshoy.com.

Noor and Mohiuddin have also lost their Twitter handles on Wednesday after the accounts were ‘mass reported’.

Mohiuddin and his wife have been living in Germany since he was stabbed in Dhaka in 2013 for his atheist writings.  

Nasrin is followed by 767,000 people on Facebook. Rahman has 123,000 followers, while Sanjana is followed by about 18,000 people, and Fatema has about 30,000 followers. Noor's verified page has more than 251,000 followers but the profile that has described him as dead had about 7,000 followers 

Speaking to Outlook over the phone Nasrin said, “These Islamist radicals are after me for three decades now. I am living outside Bangladesh for 27 years but they have been relentless. Facebook authorities need to make proper enquiries and see if they are being led by Islamic terror groups into taking these actions. They need to improve their system.  How could Facebook repeat the mistake in a matter of two days even after the first incident was widely reported in the Bengali and English-language media?”

She added that religious fundamentalists have repeatedly reported her Facebook profile en masse, resulting in her ‘ban’ on the social media platform on several occasions. She will be lodging a complaint with the cyber cell of the Delhi police.

“I have suffered repeated censorships, my books keep getting banned, my very existence comes under banning. Social media is my only way to express my opinion freely. Facebook needs to decide whether they want to be driven purely by number or have some ethics as well,” she said.

In all likelihood, those behind reporting her as ‘dead’ before Facebook authorities live in Bangladesh.

After Facebook took her profile to ‘remembering’ mode for the first time, many had suspected that it happened because the social media platform misinterpreted a post that she made on the subject of death on January 17. “I want my death to be widely publicised. Let the news spread that I have donated my body for medical research. Let someone get a new life with organ transplant,” she had written.

For most readers, it was apparent that she was responding to how Bengali theatre personality Saoli Mitra ensured her cremation was done in secrecy, without letting anyone know of her death. People on social media expressed their surprise thinking how Facebook could wrongly interpret the post.

However, after the repeat ‘attack’ on her profile, it has now become quite clear to her, as well as her well-wishers, that it was not a case of Facebook misreading a post.

Asaduzzaman Noor, popularly known as Asad Noor, is hiding in India since facing life threats in Bangladesh in 2019. On January 19, he found his Facebook profile claiming him to be dead.

He wrote on the platform, from his Facebook ‘page’, “I am alive! Yet Facebook App says I am dead! Facebook is losing its dignity by giving importance to the false reports of certain Bangladeshi Islamist cybercriminals. Facebook should improve their artificial intelligence (AI) to get back the faith they have lost in the community. They should be more vigilant about the choices and calls they make.”

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Speaking to Outlook, Noor alleged that this was the handiwork of a Bangladesh-based hacker group, which runs a Facebook page called Bangladesh Civilian Force. On January 19, he received an email from an email ID styled as Team Khan saying that his Facebook profile was reported as belonging to a dead person because he expressed his concerns about what happened to Nasrin’s profile.

“They also sent me proof showing it was them who also reported my Twitter handle. They asked me to refrain from making comments against Islam. These people are also behind the Facebook page called Bangladesh Civilian Force, which has claimed responsibility for bringing down our Facebook profiles by reporting us as dead,” Noor said.

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The Facebook page he named can only be accessed from Bangladesh. 

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