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India: Kashmir social media ban criticised

The internet is often suspended or restricted in Kashmir to quell civilian protests and anti-India demonstrations, which sometimes turn violent.

According to a report by the Software Freedom Law Centre, the internet has been blocked in Kashmir at least 31 times between 2012 to 2016.

However, this is for the first time that the authorities have placed a complete ban on social networking sites.

The authorities say the ban is to prevent people inciting violence or spreading rumours

‘Subversive elements’

Advocacy groups like India’s Centre for Internet and Society have described the ban a “blow to freedom of speech” and “legally unprecedented in India”.

And the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has asked India to revoke the ban.

“The sweeping censorship of social media under the pretext of ‘maintaining peace and order’ will bring neither peace nor order,” media reports quoting Steven Butler of CPJ said.

Steven Butler of CPJ

The state government order said social media networking sites were being used by “anti-national and subversive elements” to harm peace in the state.

It said “objectionable content” was being distributed to “spread disaffection” with the authorities.

The latest bout of violence began on 9 April when eight people were killed and scores injured after police clashed with protesters during a by-election in the city of Srinagar.

Since then, hundreds of students have protested on the streets, chanting anti-India slogans and throwing stones at the security forces.

Graphic videos claiming to show abuses on both sides have been shared extensively on social media and have added fuel to the conflict.

Opposition and pro-independence groups have criticised the government’s move.

The ban made it to the front pages of local newspapers

“Repeated bans on means of communication in this day and age in the hope of restoring so-called peace and normalcy in the Kashmir Valley is ridiculous,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, one of the most influential leaders in the Kashmiri separatist movement, said.

Terming the ban “archaic”, the main opposition National Conference party accused the government of meting out “collective punishment to the people of Kashmir for expressing their political aspiration and raising voice against gross human rights excesses”.

Justifying the internet gag, a government representative said that the move was aimed at restoring normalcy and stopping rumours from spreading further.

“It [the ban] is a temporary decision to stop rumours and restore law and order to prevent further loss of life. Also, it is being done to prevent a war of provocative videos from both sides,” Waheed Ur Rehman Parra, leader of the ruling party’s youth wing, told the BBC.

News source : BBC