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News

116 Cases In 2023: India Leads In Internet Shutdowns For Sixth Year

Out of the 1,458 shutdowns documented by Access Now worldwide since 2016, India has been responsible for 773 of them, amounting to 53%.

By - Hera Rizwan | 17 May 2024 11:11 AM GMT

According to "Shrinking Democracy, Growing Violence," a report by the internet advocacy watchdog Access Now, India recorded 116 instances of internet shutdowns in 2023, representing 41% of the 283 cases worldwide. Consequently, India has led the world in internet shutdowns for the sixth consecutive year.

Overall, the internet was snapped 283 times across 39 countries last year, an increase in 41 percent from 2022. Myanmar had the second highest number of shutdowns, with 37, although the report suggested that this figure is likely only a “fraction of what were likely hundreds.”

Following Myanmar were Iran with 34 shutdowns, Palestine with 16, and Ukraine with 8. The report also noted that the shutdowns in Palestine and Ukraine were “imposed by external parties.”

India amongst the 'worst offenders'

India is among the "repeat offenders" on the list, alongside Algeria, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and the UAE, for implementing shutdowns every year since 2016.

In India, 64 shutdowns impacted multiple districts, driven by 47 shutdowns in Manipur and a statewide shutdown in Punjab in March. Internet services in Manipur were suspended from May 3 to December 3, with a brief three-day break, totaling 212 days.

In addition to other states, Jammu and Kashmir experienced 17 shutdowns, while Bihar had 12, Haryana had 11, West Bengal had 6, Maharashtra had 5, and Rajasthan had 5.

Apart from blocking specific platforms nationwide, 13 states in India experienced local or statewide internet shutdowns. The count of Indian states witnessing more than five shutdowns rose from 3 in 2022 to 7 in 2023. Furthermore, 41% of all shutdowns in India lasted five days or longer, a significant increase from the 15% reported in 2022.

Furthermore, the report disclosed that conflicts sparked 74 internet shutdowns across nine countries, including India, in 2023, while protests triggered 63 shutdowns across 15 countries. Additionally, twelve shutdowns in six countries, India included, were enacted to prevent cheating in exams.

Dire impacts on people and economy

As per the Access Now report, authorities have leveraged internet shutdowns as "a blatant tool for enabling and exacerbating violence, war crimes, and other atrocities". This led to significant impacts over people and economy.

Between January and October 2023, India issued 7,502 orders to block URLs. The report highlighted the new telecom law, which grants the central government significant authority to enforce internet shutdowns. It also noted other trends pointing to a “spectrum of harmful, increasingly longer, and wider-ranging disruptions shrinking the civic space in the country”.

The report's analysis of the of these shutdowns bring out startling repercussions. It calculated that a single-day shutdown can “push up to 379 people into unemployment” in India. It also suggested these shutdowns “cost the country $1.9 billion and a loss of $118 million in foreign investment in the first half of 2023 alone”.

Over the past five years, Indian authorities have implemented shutdowns on at least 500 occasions. However, as the report points out, officials persist in their failure to publish shutdown orders and "have been repeatedly corrected by courts for failing to comply, underscoring the urgent need for reform”.

Manipur suffered the most due to the statewide shutdown of broadband and mobile internet lasting two-and-a-half months. The report noted, "The impacts were severe, particularly for women, as the shutdowns made it more difficult to document rampant atrocities, including murder, rape, arson, and other gender-based violence, and thereby hold perpetrators accountable."

Last year, Decode reported on how, without the Internet, the state had transgressed into a polarised state, filled with misinformation. Several individuals in the relief camp, unaware of the fate of their homes, relied on mass sharing via Bluetooth. Most of them shared photographs and videos depicting destruction, violence, and burnt villages—some captured in distant places, including areas outside of Manipur.

The state of Punjab also recorded “one of the country’s most extensive blackouts in recent years” during the police’s hunt for Amritpal Singh in March 2023. Authorities “blocked internet access impacting about 2.7 million people across the country for four continuous days”.

Raman Jit Singh Chima, the Asia Pacific policy director of Access Now, said in a press release: “With over 500 documented shutdowns in the past five years, Indian government leaders must immediately commit to ensuring that the world’s largest democracy is internet shutdown free if they wish to be credible in their efforts to be recognised as global digitisation leaders. They cannot claim to advance digital access for the world while disrespecting human rights in the digital age at home.”