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Internet services blocked in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal

Violence prompted by a Facebook post deemed objectionable has led to state authorities blocking Internet services in the Basirhat sub-division of North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal – less than 100 km to the east of Kolkata – to curb spread of rumors on social media and instant messaging services, reports ANI. Currently, section 144 of the CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure), which deals with unlawful assembly, has been put in place in the area.

The allegedly objectionable Facebook post was shared by a 17-year old boy on Monday. By the evening of the same day, the boy had been arrested by local police, however by then the mob had already vandalised shops and put up blockades along major road connections in the area. There were clashes between the mob and the police as well.

This development comes less than a month after Internet services were shutdown in Darjeeling, which has now entered its third week and has been extended for 8 more days till Monday, July 10, 2017. Around the same time as the shutdown in Darjeeling, mobile Internet was blocked once again in Jammu & Kashmir following the death of a youth. Authorities said that blocking the Internet was necessitated to curb spread of “inflammable content” on social media.

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Typically, mobile Internet bans are enforced under Section 144 of the CrPC, which can be invoked by a district magistrate or the collector. To curb incidents of riots or mobs, magistrates or district collectors cut mobile Internet to stop the spread of rumours on social media. The number of Internet blocks has increased dramatically following the Supreme Court’s ruling which upheld the districts and states’ right to ban mobile Internet services for maintaining law and order in February 2016.

Pressure from advocacy groups

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said that there have been 20 internet shutdowns in 2017. It added that Indian authorities should cease arbitrary restrictions of the country’s Internet and telecommunications networks. “Shutdowns in response to campaigns on social media and mobile mass messaging applications spreading false and even incendiary information have frequently been disproportionate,” the group said.

The Centre for Communication Governance at NLU Delhi counts more than 40 instances in two years where the internet was suspended for emergencies. In May, two United Nations human rights experts had called on India to restore Internet and social media networks in Jammu & Kashmir, in a statement released today. While Internet access is working now in Jammu & Kashmir, the Indian government had banned 22 social media sites/apps on 17th of April 2017.

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