Calls For Legal Reform, Clarity Offset Bangladesh Online Purge

October 4, 2023
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Legal identities are calling for online gambling regulation or legal clarity in Bangladesh as financial authorities probe hundreds more websites and crackdown against thousands of users of mobile financial services.
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Legal identities are calling for online gambling regulation or legal clarity in Bangladesh as financial authorities probe hundreds more websites and crackdown against thousands of users of mobile financial services (MFS).

The Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) on September 27 announced the suspension of 21,725 MFS accounts over suspected transactions relating to online gambling and illegal cross-border remittances.

The Bangladesh Bank, the country's central bank, also warned leading MFS providers such as Nagad, Rocket and Bkash against facilitating illegal gambling and informal international transactions known as “hundi”, BFIU deputy chief and executive director A.F.M. Shahinul Islam told reporters.

The BFIU said details on 814 gambling websites, 159 apps and 442 social media pages had been sent to police investigators on suspicion of gambling and hundi offences, the Dhaka-based Business Standard reported.

In July, the Bangladesh Supreme Court ordered the BFIU to act against non-compliant MFS providers in response to a writ petition that targeted proliferating advertisements for online gambling on social media and in mass media outlets, including news stations and sports channels.

The court also ordered the telecommunications regulator to block online gambling websites.

The BFIU crackdown on the MFS network, a structure common to developing nations, follows the jailing in April of online gambling operator Salim Pradhan for eight years.

The BFIU launched a similar push against online gambling operations this time last year when it blocked 331 websites and increased pressure on global social media companies to clean up their content.

Still, as with India, the authorities appear overwhelmed by the growth of online gambling and sports betting that has been super-charged by the coronavirus pandemic.

As with the frustrated attempt to legalise integrated resorts in 2019, legal voices are turning to mass media to call for change, in the form of a regulated market or at least through the introduction of up-to-date legislation.

Tasnuva Shelley, a London-trained barrister and legal reform advocate licensed to practice in the Bangladesh Supreme Court, wrote in the Business Standard on Tuesday (October 3): “It is high time we acknowledge the new landscape of gambling.

“Instead of banning online gambling, gaming or betting outright, a set of comprehensive regulations encompassing online gambling, licensing and penalties should be introduced.

“By adopting modern regulations, Smart Bangladesh can balance freedom, innovation and responsible gambling, generating revenue through taxation and licensing fees for the economy,” Shelley wrote, referring to the government’s Smart Bangladesh campaign of economic, governance and technological reform.

Shelley said that regulation would enhance the “crucial” goal of “safeguarding smart citizens from potential harm” as the nation’s digitalisation expands.

The Business Standard also ran an op-ed by final-year law student Sidratul Muntaha on September 21 that called for “new legislation [to] be enacted to repeal existing provisions and provide a clearer legal framework for online gambling in Bangladesh”.

As with Shelley’s article, Muntaha said the nation’s unclear legal framework for online gambling is contributing to a “lack of strict enforcement against individual bettors”, even as “engaging in such activities carries inherent risks”.

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