Curbing the flow of information during heightened periods of tension has become routine business by authorities in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Access to mobile Internet service was suspended Thursday after violent protests erupted in the state. Although the service was restored late that night, the episode is another example of the government’s heavy-handed tactics.
The demonstrations Wednesday followed unconfirmed reports that Indian border security guards had desecrated a copy of the Quran at a local religious seminary while looking for a militant, reports said. Four people were killed and dozens more injured in clashes between angry protesters and border guards in Ramban district, according to The Associated Press.
In addition to mobile Internet being suspended, the speed of broadband connections in the area was reduced, The Times of India reported, citing unnamed government officials.
The central government called for a probe into the violent confrontation. Authorities said they cut off Internet access on mobile phones as a “precautionary measure” to curb rumors and further violence as tensions ran high, according to news reports. They also imposed a curfew in the Kashmir Valley and parts of Jammu on Friday, which was lifted on Sunday, Ahmed Ali Fayyaz, Jammu and Kashmir bureau chief for The Hindu, told CPJ by phone.
Critics have raised concerns that such restrictions are part of a larger campaign to curtail the flow of information. “There is always the assumption that any demonstration will be violent in nature. Authorities have resorted [to] clamping down any time tensions run high, and it has become a pattern since 2010,” Parvaiz Bukhari, a Kashmir-based journalist with Agence France-Presse, told CPJ by phone. Bukhari said authorities increasingly resort to “non-declared curfews,” during which journalists are unable to get the curfew passes that allow them to report freely during official curfews. Even during official curfews, he said, journalists’ curfew passes have sometimes been torn up by security forces.
CPJ documented similar restrictions on Internet and cable service in February, imposed after the execution of a militant from the region. A curfew lasting several days led to disruption of the publication and circulation of nearly 60 newspapers in the state.
CPJ also reported on the possibility of Internet censorship in Jammu and Kashmir in September as authorities attempted to prohibit people from uploading or downloading the video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” which sparked large violent protests in Kashmir and elsewhere, according to international media reports.
In the past, the state’s chief minister, Omar Abdullah, has said such restrictions are necessary and that mobile phones are a source of fast-spreading rumors. According to Bukhari, however, “Every time these draconian measures are imposed, people get angrier.”