July 19, 2006
His Excellency Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister, Republic of India
Office of the Prime Minister
New Delhi 110 011
Via facsimile: ++91-11-23016857
The Committee to Protect Journalists is troubled by the government’s recent order to ban certain Web sites, an action that has resulted in blocked access to domains hosting many thousands of Web logs. We urge you to lift the ban, which has disrupted the flow of news, information, and commentary in a medium of growing importance in India. We are concerned as well that the order was imposed with no official explanation and without judicial or independent review.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in India have told reporters that they received an order last week from the Department of Telecommunications to remove access to a limited number of Web sites, but without elaboration on why those sites were listed. Your government has not named the Web sites on the list, but officials have said that as many as 20 may have been included, according to news reports.
The order came in the wake of a series of bombings that killed 182 people on Mumbai’s commuter trains on July 11.
After the order was issued, Internet users in India were deprived of access to many thousands of blogs hosted by popular services blogspot.com, typepad.com and geocities.com, according to news reports, bloggers, and journalists inside the country.
In an explanation provided to the South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) today, the deputy consul general in New York, A.R. Ghanashyam, said that the ban was initiated by India’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT). He said the order intended to ban two Web pages “containing extremely derogatory references to Islam and the holy prophet, which had the potential to inflame religious sensitivities in India and create serious law and order problems.” CERT is a unit of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology that deals with computer security issues.
“Because of a technological error,” Ghanashyam said, “the Internet providers went beyond what was expected of them, which in turn resulted in the unfortunate blocking of all blogs.”
A similar government action in 2003, which was intended to block a single Yahoo group, resulted in blocked access to an entire domain, groups.yahoo.com, according to Internet analysts.
Bloggers and Internet users in India have strongly protested your government’s recent move, which has impeded the flow of information, news and opinions during a time of national crisis. As a non-governmental organization dedicated to defending press freedom around the world, CPJ joins with our colleagues in India who have demanded greater transparency in state efforts to intervene in Internet content and access. Especially in a country like India, with a strong history of press freedom, any effort to limit or control the Internet should be subject to judicial or independent review and narrowly tailored to address urgent national security concerns. We urge Your Excellency to lift last week’s ban and to clarify publicly all government’s efforts to block Web sites and filter Internet content.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.