Bangladeshis now have to sort through fake news websites. Photo: AFP/Munir uz Zaman
Bangladeshis now have to sort through fake news websites. Photo: AFP/Munir uz Zaman

A flurry of false websites have appeared in Bangladesh ahead of general elections, scheduled to be held on December 30. The fake websites were reported by the Bangladesh Chronicle, which quoted the BBC’s Bengali language service and the daily newspaper Prothom Alo.

According to the Bangladesh Chronicle, “some bear uncanny resemblances to the real sites, but contain discrepancies such as fictitious headlines replacing genuine ones or spelling mistakes in the websites’ addresses that give them away.”

The Dhaka Tribune said in an editorial that most of the “fake news” promoted by the doctored websites was directed “sharply” against the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which is hoping to unseat the ruling Awami League-led coalition.

According to Ali R Razi, an assistant journalism professor at Chittagong University, who is quoted in the article: “The country may face serious danger any time. Vested quarters may create anarchy by circulating false stories ahead of the election.”

The Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina, has been in power since January 2009 after winning a landslide victory in the December 2008 election. But the BNP challenged the election results, claiming it was a stage-managed general election.

The BNP and its allies boycotted the last election in 2014, but will participate in this one. The Awami League is seen as pro-India, while the BNP has traditionally been allied with Islamist parties such as the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, which was deregistered in 2013 but can field candidates as independents or on the BNP ticket.

It is not clear who the hackers are, and Bangladeshi journalists have expressed concern over the false sites. Affected parties can file criminal complaints, the Bangladesh Chronicle reported.