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Internet shutdowns in Manipur and Rajasthan

5-day internet and cable news suspension in Manipur

Yesterday, the Manipur government suspended internet for the next five days in the state amidst protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2018, reports the Indian Express. Mobile internet services were suspended on the midnight of February 12 up till February 16, although the decision could be reviewed in case the situation improved. Curfew has been imposed in Imphal city.

District magistrate for Imphal West Naorem Praveen Singh also barred cable news channels from “transmission of agitation or protest” indefinitely “until further orders”, under Section 19 of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 which prohibits transmission of agitation or protests which may lead to violence.

Manipur chief secretary J Suresh Babu told the Indian Express the decision does not contradict freedom of speech as it prohibits the spread of provocative information which could incite violence. “We have to prevent violence and people getting injured. It is not that every news is prohibited, only the provocative content,” he added.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill 2018 was listed in the Rajya Sabha for discussion and passing today, but the Upper House has been adjourned sine die (without a date for resumption), which means the the Bill has lapsed.

  • It is worth noting that the north-eastern state of Tripura underwent a four-day internet blackout in January following protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2018.
  • Mobile internet was suspended in Manipur for six days in September 2018 following an agitation in Manipur University.
  • In July 2018, internet services were suspended for five days following protests demanding removal of the Manipur University Vice-Chancellor Adya Prasad Pandey after allegations of his involvement in financial irregularities and administrative mismanagement.

Internet ban in Rajasthan district

In Rajasthan’s first internet ban of 2019, the state suspended internet services in Sawai Madhopur district yesterday until February 13, amidst protests by members of the Gujjar community, reports Business Standard.

Members of the Gujjar community have been protesting for the state government to implement the 5% reservation it had promised them and four other groups in 2017. However, protests for reservation turned violent after agitators set ablaze three police vehicles and fired shots in the air in Dholpur district. Gujjar leader Kirori Singh Bainsla was asked to vacate railways tracks where protestors have been camping since February 8.

The Rajasthan government follows the state of Jammu in Kashmir when it comes to the most internet blocks in the country. Since 2015, Jammu & Kashmir has banned the internet 132 times, and Rajasthan 57 times, per SFLC’s Internet Shutdown Tracker.

In 2018, Rajasthan banned the internet 30 times for reasons such as preventing cheating in constable exams and in the run-up to protests by Dalits in the state, among other reasons.

  • Moreover, it turned out that the Rajasthan government set up only 11 review committees for 40 internet shutdowns ordered between July 2017 to May 2018.
  • Of the 11 review committees which were formed, the state home department refused to disclose the minutes of meeting of 5 of them, and found the internet bans justified only in the 6 other bans

India had 134 internet shutdowns in 2018, and 284 internet shutdowns since 2015, per SFLC’s tracker. It is worth noting that these are only the reported internet shutdowns. It is unclear which ones, if any, have gone unreported.

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