Inability to access the Bhutanomics website by Druknet customers, has raised allegations that the internet service provider (ISP) is blocking the website.
Bhutanomics, which appeared on the Internet last year, allows users to submit articles on political issues and current affairs, anonymously.
Last month, the website alleged on a social media platform that it has been blocked by the government.
Currently, the website cannot be accessed by Druknet users in Thimphu and other dzongkhags. But it is accessible through proxy websites, and by users using private ISP connections. The website is also accessible abroad.
Druknet general manager Tshering Norbu said the ISP has not received any instructions to block Bhutanomics, nor was he aware of any block in place.
He pointed out that a block occurring without his knowledge and consent was unlikely, as the proper protocol is for any such instruction to come through either him or the managing director of Bhutan Telecom.
Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) media officer, Lakshuman Chhetri, also pointed out that it has not instructed any ISP to block it.
The Bhutan Information, Communication and Media Act 2006 mandates the authority to regulate or curtail harmful and illegal contents on the internet. This mandate can be exercised through a directive issued by the information and communications ministry. “As of now, no such directive was received,” he said in an email interview.
Information and communications secretary Dasho Kinley Dorji said the ministry had not instructed BICMA to block the website. There was and is no reason for the website to be blocked, he said.
But Bhutanomics maintains its stance. “Inability to view our website only through Druknet confirms the fact that we are banned. The government has no control over Tashi and Samden,” it is pointed out, referring to two of three private ISPs in the country.
Bhutanomics is “funded and run independently by a group of freelance writers”, according to information on the website,
Asked to respond to observations that some of the material on the website are personal attacks, defamatory, or could compromise a free and fair elections this year, the website administrators state that Bhutanomics is a publishing platform for contributions from “people who are concerned about the state of the country.” It is added, “The parts considered unbearable by those in power are what in other countries is called satire and lampooning … Banning criticism is really the situation where free and fair elections are not possible.”
Despite the ability to bypass blocks using proxy websites, or by utilising social media platforms, the website’s administrators pointed out that a block qualifies as censorship of free speech, and therefore is a significant issue.
Druknet GM Tshering Norbu said if a customer complaints or a written complaint is received about the website being inaccessible, the ISP will conduct a check. He said that is normal procedure.
After Internet services was introduced in 1999, Druknet attempted to block pornography websites but high costs and bypass methods caused the ISP to abandon the effort. In 2007, BICMA attempted blocking the BhutanTimes website, but abandoned the effort shortly thereafter.
Gyalsten K Dorji