By Busari Yusuf
Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube and several social media sites have been banned in India for a period of one month.
Internet service providers have been asked to block 22 social networking sites with immediate effect “in the interest of maintaining public order,” an order from the Jammu and Kashmir government said.
Any violation would result in legal action, said the order from the state government’s Home Department.
An increasing trend had been noticed of social media and instant messaging sites being misused to transmit “unverified objectionable and inflammatory material and content” that was inciting violence, the order said.
Several graphic videos showing abuse by security forces and attacks on them have gone viral on social networking sites, leading to widespread clashes in the militancy-affected state.
In the latest round of such violence on April 9, eight people were killed.
Protests have spread since, with hundreds of students, including young women, pelting stones at security forces and chanting slogans against India. Pranesh Prakash, policy director for the Indian advocacy group the Center for Internet and Society, called the ban a “blow to freedom of speech” and “legally unprecedented in India.”
An official with Kashmir’s state-owned telecom company, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd., said engineers were still working on shutting down the 22 sites, including Facebook and Twitter, but so far had been unable to do so without freezing the internet across the Himalayan region. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give technical details of the effort to the media.
Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state has a huge military presence because of a two-decade long violent secessionist movement and a territorial dispute with neighbouring Pakistan.
The armed forces have been accused of abuses by rights watchdogs and there are often protests against their presence.
Meanwhile, 3G and 4G cellphone service has been suspended for more than a week, but slower 2G service is still available.