New Delhi: The Manipur government on Thursday (October 26) extended the internet shutdown in the state for another five days, until October 31. This despite the fact that chief minister N. Biren Singh had said on October 18 that internet would be restored in the state within four or five days.
The government notification on the extension was similar to notifications that have been issued ever since ethnic violence began on May 3. There are “apprehensions that some anti-social elements might use social media extensively for transmission of images, hate speech and hate videos inciting the passions of the public which might have serious repercussions on the law and order situation,” PTI quoted Thursday’s notification as saying.
Commissioner (home) T. Ranjit Singh had reportedly told the DGP in letter dated October “that there are still reports of incidents of violence like confrontation of the public with security forces, attempts to mob elected members residences and civil protests in front of police stations.” “To thwart the designs and activities of anti-nationals and anti-socials and to maintain peace and communal harmony and to prevent any loss of life, it has become necessary to take adequate measures to maintain law and order in public interest by stopping the spread of disinformation and rumours through social media platforms,” the internet shutdown notification said.
Mobile internet has been banned in the state since May 3. It was briefly restored on September 23, only to be shut down again on September 26.
While the government has claimed that the internet was used to spread rumours, reports from the ground and expert opinion suggest otherwise. The suspension has hindered the flow of information that could have revealed the true scale of violence, critics of shutdowns say. Emergency services have also been affected by the blanket ban. It has also made daily life and business hard for the people of the state.
One ground report said that in the absence of internet, “news and updates of events were often distorted. Information was distributed by those in positions of power, to shape a narrative that suited their convenience”.
Governments in India are infamous for shutting down internet services. In a recent report, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) scrutinised India’s record as the world’s internet shutdown capital. It found that the internet shutdowns impact people’s rights to food, work, education and health, are enabled by the Indian state and law, and run contrary to India’s international legal obligations.