'Indefinite Shutdown of Internet Disproportionately Interfered with Freedom': Manipuris Move SC

The plea, filed by a lawyer and a businessman, challenged the now 35-day-long internet ban in Manipur, imposed in the wake of ongoing violence in the state.

New Delhi: Two Manipur residents have filed a plea in the Supreme Court challenging the now 35-day-long internet ban in the state.

Manipur high court lawyer Chongtham Victor Singh and businessman Mayengbam James argued that the “indefinite shutdown of the internet” in the state since May 3 disproportionately interfered with their freedom of speech and has impacted them economically, socially, and psychologically, reports by LiveLaw and PTI said.

“Continued suspension of the internet for the purpose of preventing rumour-mongering and the spread of misinformation does not pass the threshold prescribed by the Telecom Suspension Rules 2017,” the plea read.

It added that the Manipur government ought to restore internet access in the state and declare the ban “illegal”, LiveLaw‘s report said.

The Manipur government last extended the internet ban in the state on Monday, June 5, stating that it was doing so due to fears that “anti-social elements” may use social media to transmit hate speech and exacerbate the violence in the state, the Imphal Free Press reported.

Also Read: Union Government Sets up Three-Member Committee to Probe Manipur Violence

But critics of the government’s decision say that the ban is overly broad.

“If there are fears of rumours being spread through social media that could escalate the violence in the state, the government or the authority, with their experts, may block all social media sites and public VPN by instructing all the internet service providers (ISPs) to do the same,” a spokesperson for a local workers’ union told the Free Press.

He added that the government ought to provide an internet-connected workplace for professionals in the state as many are on the verge of losing their jobs.

Violent clashes between Manipur’s Meitei and Kuki communities have left 98 people dead and tens of thousands displaced.

They were triggered by a Manipur high court decision recommending the Meiteis be given Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, a move that the state’s existing STs – including the Kukis –feared would undermine their affirmative action and access to forest land.