Govt Mulls Ban On Social Media In Kashmir

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Srinagar: Having banned 4G and 3G services in the Valley, the Jammu and Kashmir government is now likely to extend ban to popular social media sites in coming days, purportedly to stop videos and pictures of alleged brutalities by its forces from going viral.

The state government had suspended 3G and 4G mobile internet services across Kashmir on Monday, although broadband facility was spared this time.

This is the third time the state government has stopped internet services in the last two weeks. Authorities had even snapped broadband service last week ahead of bypolls to the Srinagar parliamentary constituency, but it was restored after a two-day gap.

On the midnight of 8 April, a few hours before polling, authorities pulled the plug on all internet services. This was done to clamp down on rumour mongering and anti-poll campaign by separatist sympathisers, who say elections under Indian control is an attempt to subvert their movement for self determination.

New Delhi has always maintained that the regular elections have made UN mandated call for plebiscite in Kashmir redundant.

Despite internet gag, bypoll saw an unprecedented boycott with voter turn out plummeting to an all time low of little over 7 percent. The day also witnessed bloody violence leaving eight people dead.

Ripple effects of poll day violence continued through the week and on Monday Kashmir police again asked service providers to snap internet services until further notice. The development comes in the wake of student protests following a police raid on a college in South Kashmir.

Protesting students took to streets and clashed with the government forces over alleged police brutality in a Pulwama Degree College on April 15.

As the Facebook Live videos of these protests flooded the social media, adding new dimension to the protests, police is now pushing for an all out ban on sites like Facebook, WhatsApp, Hike, Messenger, and Viber etc.”

“Shutting the internet every time is embarrassing. But we are thinking of banning Facebook and WhatsApp. They are more dangerous than militants and unruly mobs on the streets,” a top police official, said. “Since a long time, we have been asking the state government to block some sites, including Facebook, to stop spread of rumors.”

The likely decision to ban social media has been discussed in security review meetings chaired by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, sources said. Even some PDP leaders, according to these sources, have advised the chief minister to snap internet for some time, as social networking sites have been utilized to mobilise crowds recently.

Mobile Internet has been cut in Kashmir multiple times. The longest internet shutdown was for about 6 months from July to January, although mobile internet services on postpaid were restored a little earlier in November 2016.

For around a month, the only mobile service functional in the Valley was BSNL while pre-paid services of all cellular companies were restored after a span of three months on October 15 last year.

The mobile internet service for post-paid connections was restored on November 19 last year after a gap of about five months. Similarly, mobile internet services for prepaid connections were restored in Kashmir on January 27, six months after they were suspended.

Mobile internet services were snapped for the second time across Kashmir this month.  However 2G services were spared from the shutdown.

Internet shutdowns only led to increased social tension among the public. “The inability to communicate creates an environment of fear, rather than addresses it, as people lose the ability to communicate with friends and family, via email and messaging, and also lose access to information via news websites and social media

Experts say, Internet shutdowns only led to increased social tension among the public. “The inability to communicate creates an environment of fear, rather than addresses it, as people lose the ability to communicate with friends and family, via email and messaging, and also lose access to information via news websites and social media”, writes Shashidhar KJ.

Shutting down access to communications (the ability to transmit and receive speech) is a suspension of fundamental rights and should be used in the rarest of cases. But frequently, authorities resort to internet shutdowns because of their inability to control a situation’, he wrote on Medianama.

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