On July 20, the Manipur government suspended internet services in the state for five days to prevent the spread of provocative messages and videos circulating on social media. The ban came into effect on July 20 and is expected to remain in effect till July 25.

The ban comes in the wake of increased protests and public anger against the Vice-Chancellor of Manipur University — Adya Prasad Pandey. Manipur University Student’s Union (MUSU) is demanding the removal of Pandey as VC, alleging that the former professor of Benaras Hindu University has been involved in financial irregularities and administrative mismanagement ever since his appointment in 2016.

The immediate trigger for the internet suspension was widespread confrontation on the night of July 19 between police and protestors who were in support of the 48-hour general strike called by Manipur University Student’s Union (MUSU). The state has witnessed several cases of mob violence and lynching in the state triggered allegedly via fake videos and messages.

The order for suspension was issued by Special Secretary (Home) of Manipur government Kh Raghumani Singh who said that “anti-social elements” are using social media extensively to spread hate video messages inciting violence. Singh said the suspension has been ordered under Rule II of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017.

This is the third instance of internet shutdown in Manipur. In December 2016, the district magistrate of East and West Imphal, had issued an order to suspend mobile Internet services due to keep the law and order situation under control over economic blockade imposed by the United Naga Council (UNC). Meanwhile, residents of hill district Kangpokpi have spoken up against the state-wide shutdown, alleging that even though the current tension around the Vice-Chancellor and student body affects only the Imphal valley, the hills are unjustifiably being denied internet services. Residents have also claimed that residents of Imphal are being able to access the internet through services of the government’s owned BSNL’s broadband service.

Shutdown ordered in Arunachal during state exam

The Arunachal Pradesh government will suspend internet services in the state “to ensure free and fair conduct” of the state public service commission preliminary exams. An order by Higio Tala, the deputy secretary of the state government has been issued to all 23 districts to jam internet services from 10 am to noon and 2-4 pm on July 29, the day of the exam. The development was first reported by The News Mill.

Earlier this month, Rajasthan suspended internet services for two consecutive days to prevent cheating in the Police constable recruitment examinations. It has been a growing trend in Rajasthan over the past few months to curb internet services for various reasons.

In response to an RTI application filed by Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Centre, the Rajasthan government’s home department revealed that there were nine shutdowns in 2017 that were previously unreported. The SFLC runs an internet shutdowns tracker based on news media reports, and has updated its numbers retroactively to reflect the change, they revealed in a blog post. The RTI response also revealed twelve unreported shutdowns in 2018, bringing the total this year so far to 84 in the country. With this response, the number of shutdowns in 2018 for the entire country so far has exceeded the total number of reported shutdowns in all of 2017.

Last year, the telecom department released rules to regulate “Temporary Suspension of Internet Services”, which gave authority to high-level bureaucrats within both Central and State governments to order internet shutdowns.

Read our coverage from the open house discussion on Internet shutdowns here: