India-held Kashmir sees most internet outages globally in 2022

Published February 12, 2023
Indian paramilitary troopers patrol during a curfew in Srinagar. — AFP/File
Indian paramilitary troopers patrol during a curfew in Srinagar. — AFP/File

RESIDENTS of India-held Kashmir experienced more internet shutdowns and restrictions than any other region in 2022, including Iran and Russia, according to a new report.

More than a fifth of all web blackouts took place in held Kashmir, according to Surfshark, a virtual private network company headquartered in Lithuania, the Voice of America reported.

The VPN company’s global report on internet censorship in 2022 — released mid-January — found 32 countries were hit by a total of 112 restrictions. Almost all came during times of protest or unrest.

India-held Kashmir ranked alongside Russia — where Moscow moved to cut access to social media and news amid its invasion of Ukraine; Iran, where blocks came amid mass protests that started in September; and India, where Surfshark documented cuts in service at times of unrest.

Overall, Asia led the world for internet disruptions, accounting for 47 per cent of all global cases. An estimated 4.2 billion people experienced internet censorship throughout the year, Surfshark found.

Surfshark’s Internet Censorship Tracker analyses reports from the news media and digital rights organisations such as Netblocks and Access Now, and collects data from social media companies to document cases.

Surfshark spokesperson Gabriele Racaityte-Krasauske told VOA that in occupied Kashmir, the internet was shut down for a total of 456 hours in 2022. “All were cases of full internet restrictions on a local level,” she said.

India-held Kashmir has experienced restricted and blocked internet regularly since 2019, when Indian authorities revoked the region’s special autonomous status.

Data from the home department of the India-held Jammu and Kashmir shows 49 internet suspension orders were issued last year.

Authorities have said the blocks were intended to prevent the spread of “misinformation and maintain public order” in the wake of security-related incidents and political unrest in Kashmir, VOA said.

But local journalists and analysts have said the blocks are also used to prevent critical reporting in the region.

In its 2022 report Suspension of Telecom/Internet Services and Its Impact, India’s parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology said that guidelines on internet blocks needed to be established and noted that no database currently exists in the country to track such orders.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2023

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