May 14, 2018 1:53:23 pm
People in South Asian countries experienced at least 97 instances of Internet shutdown, a barometer on freedom of press and expression, between May 2017 and April 2018, with India alone accounting for 82 such cases, according to a UNESCO report.
According to the Clampdowns and Courage-South Asia Press Freedom Report 2017-18, released recently by the UNESCO-International Federation of Journalists, Pakistan witnessed 12 instances of Internet shutdown, while Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka reported one such case each. “Internet shutdown and deliberate slowdowns are increasing the world over and are now also a barometer on press freedom and freedom of expression controls. South Asia has witnessed the highest number of Internet shutdowns globally, with India earning the dubious crown for the country with the highest number of Internet shutdowns,” the report said.
It said Internet shutdowns are “any intentional disruption of the broadband or mobile Internet or Internet-based mobile apps, by an order of the authorities or threat of non-state party, to control communication or online content or slowing down the access to the general public.” In most cases, the justification given for Internet shutdown was to ‘maintain law and order’, while many shutdowns were either preemptive or reactive measures in the face of mass or potential violent public protests, it said. In India, Kashmir Valley experienced nearly half of the cases of Internet shutdown in the country. Clamping down on communication generally followed military operations in which militant or civilians were killed, the report said.
Over 10 instances of Internet being affected were witnessed in Rajasthan, while Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab and Haryana were among states in which less than 10 cases of Internet shutdown were recorded, according to the report.
In the six biggest instances of Internet shutdown, India accounted five of them while one was experienced in Afghanistan. It said in Darjeeling in West Bengal, a 45-day Internet shutdown was ordered due to political demonstration, protest and clashes by activists seeking a separate state. Similarly, a 40-day Internet shutdown was witnessed in Nawada in Bihar after communal clashes, while mobile Internet and social media were affected for 31 days in Jammu and Kashmir to prevent circulation of videos and photos showing alleged military abuse, the report said.
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Mobile and broadband Internet were suspended for 15 days in Jammu and Kashmir in July last year after terrorists opened fire on a bus full of pilgrims, while SMS and mobile Internet services were suspended in Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh for 12 days to stop rumours following violent communal clashes, according to the report. The Afghanistan Telecommunication Regulatory Authority had directed Internet service providers to block Telegram and WhatsApp services for 20 days. However, it was not fully implemented, the report said.
The report said apart from causing massive economic losses, they also create adverse social impacts in access to vital information and affect crisis communication by general citizens. “Slowdowns also impede the work of journalists in critical ways. When the Internet is blocked or slowed or social media is shut down, a valuable journalism tool is lost for research, verification and essential communication,” it noted. Internet shutdowns prevent journalists from freely accessing information and disseminating news and also stop citizens from accessing and sharing information, the report said.
“They pose threat to human rights and block the people’s rights to know, and have emerged as a significant tool of censorship by governments which are increasingly utilising shutdowns and under the guise of security,” it added.
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