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Internet access has been shut down in Kashmir, West Bengal and Ranchi after violent protests calling for arrest of BJP politician

BJP politician Nupur Sharma’s remarks on Prophet Muhammad took a violent turn, as cities shut down Internet access and imposed Section 144

Internet access was cut off in parts of Jammu and Kashmir, Ranchi and West Bengal on June 10, after protests against BJP politician Nupur Sharma’s remarks on the Prophet Muhammad took a violent turn, multiple agencies, including India Today and Indian Express have reported.

What is happening in Kashmir? Internet was cut off again in the Valley after trouble reportedly erupted in Bhaderwah town when protestors demanding former BJP spokeswoman Nupur Sharma’s arrest allegedly began hurling death threats at a BJP Youth Morcha politician for his support of the former, during a demonstrative rally. The Kishtwar police have registered an FIR in the matter and set up a special investigation team to investigate the case but shut down 2G, 3G and 4G internet services apparently as a precautionary measure. 

Meanwhile, a curfew was imposed in Jammu’s Kishtwar district, Bhaderwah town and adjoining Doda district, and prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) were imposed in the rest of the Chenab Valley, including Ramban district.

What is happening in West Bengal? The state home ministry cut out internet transmission and internet based voice calling in Howrah district under Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act 1885 and Sub rules 2(1) and 2 (A) of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules (Amendment) 2020.

Howrah and its neighbouring areas, Uluberia and Santragachi, had witnessed violent protests since June 9 when anti-BJP protestors blocked the National Highway 6 connecting Kolkata to other major population hubs in the state for 10 straight hours, allegedly blocking 10,000 vehicles on the road. The state’s transportation services had to be suspended on June 10 afternoon when the protests turned violent with mobs ransacking and burning properties across Howrah.  

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As per the notice, which MediaNama has viewed, the suspension in Howrah will remain in effect till 6 AM on June 13 (Monday). The state has, however, noted that SMS services and normal voice calling services are not affected by the order.

What is happening in Ranchi? Curfew was imposed in Ranchi after protests turned violent, following a demand for the arrest of Nupur Sharma. Section 144 was imposed, and the Internet was shut down. Drone surveillance carried out in the areas impactd by violence.

Why this matters: June 10, 2022, saw Muslims from around the country protesting the former BJP national spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s disparaging remarks on the Prophet Muhammad. Many of these protests turned violent, with armed police and the RAF moving in full force to clamp down on these movements. During the crackdown, disturbing clips of cops assaulting citizens have emerged on social media. The internet outages here should raise questions regarding the police’s accountability in such situations.    

A question for you: What measures do you think could have been taken to prevent the shutdown of the Internet? Do leave a coment

What are the rules of an internet shutdown? According to the Temporary Suspension Rules, an internet shutdown order needs to be:

  • Placed before a review committee by the next working day after the order’s passage
  • The review committee for the state government has to have the Chief Secretary as its Chairman, and as members: Secretary Law or Legal Remembrancer In-Charge, Legal Affairs; Secretary to the State Government (other than the Home Secretary).
  • Scrutinized by a review committee within 5 days of such an order being passed and they have to and record their findings on whether the directions issued under the rules are in accordance with the provisions of sub-section (2) of section 5 of the Telegraph Act (which allows for interception of communication in interest of public safety, sovereignty of state, etc.)
  • Needs to be sent to the designated officers of the telecom authority or of the TSPs.

Recent internet shutdowns in other parts of the country: With these two shutdowns, India has reached its 43rd internet shutdown in 2022, as per SLFC’s Internet Shutdown Tracker.

  • Andhra Pradesh: Internet services were cut off and Section 144 was imposed in Konaseema district on May 25 in response to violence over the state government’s proposition to change the district’s name to ‘BR Ambedkar Konaseema’, marking the first time Andhra Pradesh has imposed a network shutdown.
  • Rajasthan: Internet and SMS services have been shut down in Jodhpur after a curfew was imposed under Section 144 following communal violence in the city on May 3. Two days later, Bhilwara witnessed a 24 hour outage following alleged communal violence. Almost a month later, Rajasthan witnessed yet another network blackout on June 9 after unknown persons in Jaipur threatened the lives of ruling MLAs.
  • Odisha: Internet services were suspended in the Keonjhar district for a day following a clash between two communities in the mining town of Joda in the district.
  • Jharkhand: Mobile broadband and fixed-line internet services were restricted in the state’s Hazaribagh district for over 24 hours.
  • Punjab: The Patiala district was affected by violence on April 30 following which the state government decided to cut off access to the internet for eight hours to check the spread of misinformation and rumours through various social media platforms, as per an order signed by the Principal Secretary of Home Affairs and Justice department Anurag Verma.

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