Hours after social media and messaging platforms were restored following a month-long ban, mobile Internet services were snapped in Jammu and Kashmir after militant Sabzar Bhat was killed in an encounter, the Hindustan Times reports. The government has not released a statement on why mobile Internet was shut down again in the state nor has it mentioned how long services will be cut, as indicated by this Times of India report.
The publication added that stone pelters were sending voice notes on WhatsApp to spread the message after the encounter. Mobile Internet was cut in Jammu and Kashmir for more than six months after security forces killed Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. Interestingly, Sabzar Bhat was named Wani’s successor.
Kashmir has had the highest number of Internet shutdowns – as many as 31 shutdowns in 2016, and three so far in 2017.
Earlier this month, two United Nations human rights experts had called on India to restore access to the Internet and social media networks in Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian government banned 22 social media sites/apps on 17th of April 2017, specifically: Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, YouTube (upload), Vine, Google+, QQ, WeChat, Qzone, Tumblr, Skype, Viber, Line, Snapchat, Pinterest, Telegram, Reddit, Snapfish, Xanga, Buzznet, Flickr and Baidu — these services might have been lifted by the government from this website, as we pointed out earlier.
Typically, mobile internet bans are enforced under Section 144 of the CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) which allows local law administration to ban unlawful assembly and justify short bans on Internet services. Section 144 of the CrPC can usually be invoked by a district magistrate or the collector.
Tricky situation: An attendee from MediaNama’s discussion on Internet Shutdowns late last year said thatWhatsApp messages with unverified information leads to mobs coming together. He added that the spread of information (and misinformation) is so fast on services such as WhatsApp that local administrators are often helpless, and don’t know how to deal with it. They’re unable to trace the source of the content, because WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted. The only option, they feel, is to pause the spread of information, give the administration some time to allow things to calm down, because they’re overwhelmed with dealing with addressing the situation while also trying to deal with the spread of the information.
As we pointed out earlier: technology will not solve social and administrative problems, as its usage to stifle criticism and free speech will only exacerbate them. Shutting off social networking apps and free speech will, at best, delay the expression of dissent.
Supreme Court order: The number of Internet blocks has increased dramatically with the Supreme Court’s ruling which upheld the districts and states’ right to ban mobile Internet services for maintaining law and order in February last year. The Centre for Communication Governance At NLU Delhi counts more than 40 instances in two years where the internet was suspended for emergencies.