India tops list for most internet shutdowns in 2020 globally

NEW YORK: India topped the list for the most internet shutdowns in 2020 globally for the third consecutive year, a new report by digital rights and privacy organisation Access Now said.

India leveraged blackouts to crush the nationwide Farmer’s Protest and Kashmiris, the report said. It pointed that India shut down the internet more than any other nation at 109 times out of a total of 155 recorded worldwide. India was followed by Yemen with six instances.

According to a new report by Access Now, a global non-profit that works on digital rights and online freedom, around 70% of cases of internet shutdowns globally happened in India in 2020, with shut down of the internet in Kashmir roughly once every two weeks.

“In Jammu and Kashmir, the administration, which is directly supervised by India’s federal government as a union territory issued internet shutdown orders every two weeks in 2020 despite concerns from doctors, journalist associations, and other residents on the additional challenges it posed to COVID response,” the report said.

India imposed the lion’s share of internet shutdowns in 2020, topping the global list just as it did in 2018 and 2019. The government shut down the internet at least 109 times which is lower than the previous two years.

In Jammu and Kashmir, India had instituted a perpetual, punitive shutdown beginning in August 2019 as residents experienced frequent periodic shutdowns were deprived of reliable, secure, open, and accessible internet on an ongoing basis.

India also suspend voice calling and SMS services, leaving people in the area cut, including journalists, entirely off the grid and unable to access alternative means of communications, the report said.

“It is alarming that the world’s largest democracy – India – continues to be the biggest instigator of internet shutdowns in the world,” Raman Jit Singh Chima, Senior International Counsel and Asia Pacific Policy Director at Access Now said.

“We’ve lived through targeted blackouts in Jammu and Kashmir for years, and watched shutdowns spread to every part of the country, and increasingly being used to target peaceful protestors and hide the actions of government authorities.”

“People in India live in precarity. This is not on par with international human rights standards, nor is it in line with the progressive facade of the Union Government’s Digital India mission,” Raman Jit Singh Chima said.

According to the report India shut down the Internet due to political instability (75 instances), elections (10), protests (8), religious holidays or anniversaries (5), communal violence (4), and exam cheating (2).

Six countries in Asia Pacific shut down the internet 107 times. India alone shut down the internet at least 109 times. Access Now says “conflict” topped the reason for shutting down the Internet in other parts of the world, followed by elections, protests, exam cheating, and political instability.

The people most hurt by shutdowns in 2020 were those already facing repression, silencing, and marginalization. They include Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and Bangladesh, Belarusians fighting for democracy, and Ethiopians, Yemenis, and Kashmiris caught in the crossfire of communal violence and active armed conflict.

According to the report, the internet blackouts not only threaten people’s lives during COVID-19 and block protests and organizing, but they also dismantle pathways for getting help. Many who were targeted by shutdowns in 2020 remain in danger today.

Access Now earlier also expressed extreme concern over the alarming new powers the Indian government has granted itself for increased control over the content on social media platforms.

India has amended a set of rules — for immediate publication and implementation — to change how it can regulate internet intermediaries such as social media platforms, and online media sites.

This report has been built on the internet shutdown data collected by the #KeepItOn coalition, a group of 243 organizations from 105 countries that works to end internet shutdowns around the world.

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