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HRW slams India over alarming spike in internet shutdowns

The HRW also pointed out that the government had initiated internet blackouts for frivolous reasons too. Photograph: (Zee News Network)

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Jun 17, 2017, 02.57 AM (IST)

Human Rights Watch has chastised India for shutting down internet 20 times in the first five months of this year.

An HRW report launched a withering criticism of the Indian government and accused it of "failing to follow legal procedures" while blocking out cyberspace.

The global organisation also felt Narendra Modi administration's decision to cut off the internet on several occasions was fuelling a perception of high-handedness.

Meenakshi Ganguly, the organisation's South Asia director, said: "The lack of transparency and failure to explain these shutdowns only further the perception that they are meant to suppress nonviolent reporting and criticism of the government."

She also said the government's view of stopping internet in violence-hit areas was a flawed one.

"Indian authorities' concerns over the misuse of the internet and social media should not be the default option to prevent social unrest," she said.

The HRW report cited an example of how the web was used prudently by Bengaluru police to contain riots in the city in September 2016. That time, a social media team of the police used Twitter to send out regular announcements on the law and order situation, counter rumors, and answer queries from concerned citizens.

Spike in blackouts

The report stated that the internet was cut off 31 times in 2016 alone, whereas in 2012, there were just three such instances.

HRW also pointed out that the government had initiated blackouts for frivolous reasons too. Some of the episodes listed by the organisation were the April 2017 bypolls in Jammu and Kashmir and before examinations to prevent cheating.

It called out for free speech protections under articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

India incurred financial losses too. A report by the Washington DC-based Brookings Institute estimated that India lost over $968 million between July 2015 and June 2016 because of internet shutdowns.

 

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