India tops in internet shutdowns for fourth consecutive year: report

Kashmiri journalists hold placards and laptops in Srinagar last month to protest the Internet shutdown. (Farooq Khan/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

India was responsible for 106 incidents of shutdowns documented in 2021, making it the world’s biggest offender for the fourth consecutive year, claims the annual report by digital rights advocacy group Access Now.

In the report, The return of digital authoritarianism: internet shutdowns in 2021, the largest portion of claims of “national security” came from India’s shutdowns.

In 2021, Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition documented 182 internet shutdowns across 34 countries, a “dramatic resurgence of this oppressive form of control” compared to 159 shutdowns recorded in 29 countries in 2020.

“It’s also yet another warning sign of the rise of digital authoritarianism across the globe,” says the report published on Thursday.

85 shutdowns were reported in Jammu and Kashmir, a region where authorities continue to impose intentional internet disruptions that last for long periods, disrupting and endangering people’s lives
for months on end.

Weighing on the prolonged shutdown, the report states that it is an “agonizing indicator of the willingness of government authorities to disconnect and deepen the suffering of their own people.”

“The shutdowns Indian authorities imposed in 2021 drew international attention and condemnation.
The government cut internet access in a clear attempt to suppress the Farmers’ Protests, a movement opposing the Parliament of India’s passage of three farm acts the previous year,” reads the report.

In December 2021, India’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology released a report highlighting the misuse of internet shutdowns, and the impact on rights and freedoms, and making recommendations to the government to reform the framework governing the suspension of telecom/internet services.

While the report makes several positive recommendations aimed at enhancing transparency and accountability and strengthening safeguards, it does not altogether condemn the use of internet shutdowns, and fails to state one of the most important facts about internet shutdowns: they can never be justified.

After India, Myanmar imposed the highest total number of shutdowns in 2021, with 15 disruptions, followed by Sudan and Iran with five shutdowns in each country.

seven countries on our record that had never shut down the internet before joined the shame list in 2021:
Burkina Faso, Niger, Palestine, Senegal, South Sudan, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), and Zambia.