More than half of those closures were recorded in Kashmir as India tops the Access Now list for the fifth consecutive year.
Authorities shut down the internet at least 187 times last year in a record 35 countries – the highest number ever in a single year. India leads the world list with 84 shutdowns, 49 of them in Indian-administered Kashmir.
These were the findings of a report released Tuesday by digital rights watchdog Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition, which says governments are using internet shutdowns as “weapons of control and shields against impunity”.
India – labeled “the biggest offender” – topped the watchdog list for the fifth consecutive year. However, according to the report, it was the first time since 2017 that India saw fewer than 100 internet outages.
We documented 187 #Internet shutdowns in 35 countries — the highest number of countries ever recorded by the #Keep it on coalition in one year. pic.twitter.com/gQzIUaYFo2
— Access Now (@accessnow) February 28, 2023
“Authorities have disrupted internet access in (Indian-administered) Kashmir at least 49 times due to political instability and violence, including a string of 16 back-to-back orders for three-day closures in the form of curfews in January and February 2022,” said the report.
By 2021, about 80 percent of all closures in India have occurred in the disputed Himalayan region, compared to 58 percent in 2022, it added.
Kashmir is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, who control parts of it. A decades-old popular uprising against the rule of New Delhi on the Indian side has led to one of the world’s largest deployments of security forces in the region.
Since 2019, when India’s right-wing government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, removed the special status of Indian-administered Kashmir, the region has witnessed an unprecedented crackdown on residents and the imposition of laws and policies that critics say aimed at marginalizing and oppressing the population. the only Muslim-majority region in the country.
Srinivas Kodali, a digital rights activist and researcher with the Free Software Movement of India, told Al Jazeera that the internet is shutting down in India because the government can afford to keep Indian-administered Kashmir out.
“It is a form of repression. The government is telling people that unless you participate, you are not allowed to be part of a normal world,” he said.
Kodali said internet shutdowns are also a form of “economic blockade”.
“We have heard so many stories about how the internet shutdown in Kashmir is depriving people of their right to engage in commerce and trade online. It is not just about speech, it is also economic in nature. If it was just the speech, the government has enough censorship powers,” he said.
“So the suppression that the government is doing with the internet in India is not only a form of censorship but also a form of economic blockade. It hurts people a lot. It’s not just that people are being censored and silenced, it’s affecting them economically.”
The other Indian regions mentioned in the Access Now report were the states of West Bengal (7) and Rajasthan (12), both governed by political parties opposed to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Authorities in those states responded to “protests, communal violence and exams with disruptions that impacted the daily lives of millions of people for hundreds of hours in 2022,” the report said.
Other countries that saw a large number of internet shutdowns included Iran, Myanmar, Russia and Ethiopia.
“In 2022, under authoritarian regimes and in democracies, those in power accelerated their use of these heartless tactics, disrupting the internet to fuel their agendas of suppression – manipulating narratives, silencing voices and providing cover for their own actions. of violence and abuse,” Felicia Anthonio, the #KeepItOn campaign manager at Access Now, said in a statement.