India, the world’s largest democracy, tops the global list of internet blackouts

(CNN) India A new report found that the world’s largest number of internet blackouts were imposed in 2022, in what critics say is another blow to the country’s commitment to freedom of expression and access to information.

84 of the 187 internet outages reported worldwide occurred in India. report published Tuesday by Access Now, a New York-based advocacy group that tracks Internet freedom.

This is the fifth consecutive year the world’s largest democracy of more than 1.3 billion people has topped the list, the group said, raising concerns about India’s commitment to internet freedom under the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. .

“Indian states’ responsibility for the majority of global blackouts cannot be ignored and is a profound problem in itself,” the report said. “Regional authorities across the country are increasingly resorting to this repressive measure, causing shutdowns for more people in more places.”

Almost 60% of India’s internet outages last year occurred in Indian-administered Kashmir, where authorities have disrupted access due to “political instability and violence”.

In August 2019, the BJP revoked the autonomy of the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir and split it into two federally administered territories, bringing the region under greater control of New Delhi. The unprecedented decision sparked protests and the government has since frequently restricted lines of communication, a move rights groups say is aimed at stifling dissent.

Apart from Jammu and Kashmir, authorities in the states of West Bengal and Rajasthan have imposed more shutdowns than any other Indian region in response to “protests, communal violence and investigations”.

India has the second largest digital population in the world after China more than 800 million internet users. The Internet has become a vital social and economic lifeline for large segments of the population, connecting isolated rural pockets of the country with growing cities.

Outages “impacted the daily lives of millions of people for hundreds of hours in 2022,” the report said.

Concerns in India

The Access Now report comes at a time when India’s commitment to freedom of speech and expression is under increasing scrutiny.

In January, the country banned a BBC documentary critical of Modi’s alleged role in the deadly riots more than 20 years ago. India’s tax authorities raided the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai in the following weeks, citing “irregularities and inconsistencies” in the broadcaster’s taxes.

But critics of the government were not convinced, instead calling the raids “a clear case of vendetta” and accusing the BJP of intimidating the media.

New Delhi Police last week arrested a high-ranking opposition politician for “disturbing harmony” after he mispronounced the prime minister’s middle name, a move Modi’s critics likened to “dictatorial behavior”.

People line up to cast their votes for the first phase of India’s general elections in April 2019.

In recent years, the government has repeatedly justified blocking Internet access on grounds of public safety amid widespread fears of mob violence.

While the country was in the midst of the 2019 general elections, with more than 900 million people eligible to vote, some Indians was deprived of the opportunity to use the Internet for days as they prepared to vote.

Authorities said the block was a “precautionary measure to maintain law and order,” leading many critics to question India’s sweeping exercise of political freedom during the world’s biggest election.

During a protest by angry farmers in 2021 over controversial new price laws in 2021, the Indian government Internet access was blocked in several regions after violent clashes took place between the protesters and the police.

Supporters of the Aam Aadmi Party take part in a demonstration in Amritsar on August 31, 2021, following clashes between police and farmers.

Some individual shutdowns have been challenged in court, and efforts are underway to change the country’s laws to make such shutdowns more difficult.

The rest of the world

There were more internet blackouts worldwide last year than ever before, Access Now said, prompting the group to raise fears of “digital authoritarianism” as governments continue the trend.

Apart from India, other countries that saw internet blackouts last year include Ukraine, Iran and Myanmar.

During Russia’s invasion of its neighboring Ukraine, the Kremlin cut off Internet access at least 22 times, according to Access Now, engaging in “cyber attacks and deliberately destroying telecommunications infrastructure.”

It The regime of Iran responded to protests sparked by the killing of 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian Mahsa Amini by imposing 18 shutdowns; Access Now’s move is being called a “further escalation of its repressive tactics.”

Myanmar, which saw a junta oust its democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021, saw seven internet outages, the report said. The Southeast Asian country continues to be rocked by violence and instability, while many struggle with shortages of fuel, food and basic supplies.

“The military continued to keep people in the dark for long periods of time, targeting areas where resistance to the coup is strongest,” the report said.

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