The Haryana government on Friday shutdown internet and SMS services in fourteen more districts, claiming that it was doing so to curb misinformation related to the ongoing farmers’ protests. The fourteen impacted districts are: Ambala, Yamunanagar, Kurukshetra, Karnal, Kaithal, Panipat, Hisar, Jind, Rohtak, Bhiwani, Charkhi Dadri, Rewari, Fatehabad, and Sirsa. Internet and SMS services in these districts will remain suspended until 5 PM, January 30. So far, there have been fourteen instances of internet shutdowns in Haryana, as per a tracker maintained by the Delhi-based rights group SFLC.In.
Before this, the state had already imposed a shutdown in three districts—Sonipat, Palwal, and Jhajjar—taking the total number of impacted districts to seventeen. The ongoing internet and SMS suspension in these areas has also been extended until 5 PM on Saturday, as per the latest order. Two telecom sources confirmed receiving the order from the government to MediaNama and said they were in the process of complying with it. MediaNama has seen a copy of the order.
The order has been signed by Rajeev Arora, Additional Chief Secretary to the Haryana government. It said that these services were shutdown to “stop the spread of disinformation and rumours and divisive propaganda through various social media platforms, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Twitter, etc on mobile phones and SMS, for facilitation and mobilisation of mobs of agitators and demonstrators who can cause serious loss of life and damage to public and private properties by indulging in arson or vandalism and other types of violent activities”.
“We condemn the Internet Shutdowns taking place alongside the farmer protests,” the Delhi-based digital rights body Internet Freedom Foundation tweeted, in response to the internet shutdown. “To us these are anti-democratic and disproportionate to the rights of peaceful assembly and protest. Suspending internet in all of Haryana is a clear instance of over breadth exercise of power”.
On January 26, as clashes erupted between farmers protesting against the recently farm laws and law enforcement in multiple areas in Delhi and NCR, the Home Ministry had ordered telecom operators to cut internet services until the midnight of January 26.
*Update at 7:11 PM, Jan 29: Updated with statement from the Internet Freedom Foundation. Originally published at 6:42 PM, Jan 29.