Sunday, December 3, 2023

Digitial rights group says internet shutdown in Manipur violation of fundamental rights

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August 11 marks 100 days of unrest in Manipur that took over 180 lives and partitioned the state on ethnic lines. Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

The digital rights group Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) released a statement on Friday to mark 100 days of “ongoing illegal” internet shutdown in Manipur. IFF stated that they are “deeply saddened and perturbed by the state of affairs and how the citizens of Manipur are being deprived of their basic human rights”.

“It contributes to the propagation of misinformation without any means for verification and hinders the accountability process for human rights violations,” reads the statement.

Since May 03, the internet has been shut down in the Northeastern state gripped by ethnic violence between the predominantly Christian Kuki Zo tribe and Meiteis of the Hindu faith. More than 180 people have been killed and hundreds remain missing.

“The suspension of internet access, which was imposed on May 3, 2023, was narrowly lifted on July 25, 2023, only in the case of broadband services (internet leased line and fibre to the home), even though broadband constitutes just 3% of all internet connections in India,” IFF statement reads.

Maktoob has observed that rumours are easily spread with no rebuttal in the absence of the internet in Manipur.

The absence of an end date in the July 25 order effectively makes the Intetnet suspension indefinite in nature.

“This makes the order prima facie illegal as it violates Rule 2(2A) of the Telecom Suspension, 2017, as amended in 2020, after the Supreme Court in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India noted that any restrictions on internet services must be temporally and geographically limited. Rule 2(2A) states that no internet suspension order shall be in operation for more than fifteen days,” IFF points out.

Journalists covering the crisis have shared that the shutdown has hindered their work. Residents have to give an undertaking to the administration to get a broadband connection. “ISPs have been directed to ensure the continued blocking of social media websites and VPNs at the local level even for broadband users. Physical monitoring for checking violation of terms and conditions may also be undertaken by the law enforcement authorities.”

A viral video from Manipur showing two Kuki-Zo women paraded naked shocked the world and forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi to comment about Manipur. The action was taken against the perpetrators only after the video went viral on social media. The video from May 04 was posted on social media a day before the monsoon session of parliament.

“These egregious violations of human rights and the shocking contempt for Supreme Court’s ruling in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India are concerning. It reveals a pattern of paternalistic governance transpiring in the country while attempting to obscure the government’s failures in preventing law and order problems. In such dark times,” it added.

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