Bangladeshis behind global far-right online movements: Here’s what we know

Over the past few weeks, growing protests against Covid-19 restrictions have been crippling Canada-US borders and downtown Ottawa. As the protest keeps gaining momentum online through groups and pages that circulate propaganda, an investigation by US news site Grid has unearthed riveting evidence that links a Bangladeshi digital marketing firm behind these online promotions.

Grid found out that JS Digital Guide, a digital marketing firm based in Bangladesh, was running two of the largest Facebook groups in Ottawa that circulated propaganda, conspiracy theories and kept promoting the protests online to reach more people.

The groups, named ‘Freedom Convoy 2022’ and ‘Convoy to Ottawa 2022’ had a combined membership of nearly 1,70,000 members, mostly Canadians, before Meta decided to shut them down following the Grid inquiry.

The groups regularly promoted calls for donations to the protest campaigns and directed its members to the protests related events in Canada, reports Grid.

In the course of the investigation, Grid was able to locate one Jakir Saikot, the founder of JS Digital Guide. Saikot told Grid in an online interview, that he started the groups because he “believed in freedom.” He also said that he did not receive any kind of payment for promoting the protests or running the groups.

But Saikot apparently told a different account of events to Nazmul Ahasan, a reporter at the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley, whom Grid contacted to corroborate the events.

To Ahasan, Saikot reportedly admitted that he was being paid $23 per day for promoting and running the Facebook groups.

When contacted separately by this correspondent, Saikot initially refused to comment anything regarding his involvement in the matter. However, he later admitted that he was contacted by a journalist named Steve Reilly from Grid, but claimed it was a ‘misunderstanding’.

“I do not have any agency. I run a small mobile phone store in Dhaka and I have no involvement in whatever’s going on in Canada,” he said.

“Please do not believe what’s being circulated about me. It is fake and fabricated. I do not know how they got my number but someone is clearly trying to smear my name.”

“Grid is a small news site with barely 1000 likes on Facebook. There’s no need to take it seriously,” said Saikot.

When asked about his conversations with Nazmul Ahasan, Saikot insisted that he did not speak with Ahasan and went on to allege that Ahasan may have had other agendas. “He is likely running a paid smear campaign against me, though I do not know why.”

This, however, is not the only incident of Bangladeshis being involved with far-right protest groups. Earlier this month, another investigation by Crikey, an Australia-based news site, revealed that a Bangladeshi Facebook profile under the name of Shamim Khan was behind a similar group called Convoy to Canberra.

Shamim Khan’s account claimed that he was from Rajshahi, Bangladesh and his account mostly contained posts shared in Bengali. But the account was seen repeatedly posting content related to the protest into the Convoy to Canberra group, reported Crickey.

Shamim Khan could not be contacted to corroborate the claims.

The ongoing movements were started first in Canada by truckers who opposed Covid-19 protection mandates but were soon joined by other ‘Anti-vaxxers’ and ‘QAnon groups’ and sparked similar far-right movements around the globe.

The Canadian Government has recently invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time to counter the growing protests, which allows the Government to use military force against the protesters, if and when absolutely necessary.

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