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India Suspends Internet and Mobile Services to Quell Protests

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Authorities in India have shutdown mobile and internet services in an effort to thwart protests over a new citizenship law that excludes Muslims.

Student-led protests that have galvanized a large section of the Indian public. They have been met with communications blocks in areas of New Delhi; in the eastern state of West Bengal, the northern city of Aligarh; and the entire state of Assam in the days since the contentious law was passed in Parliament.

Students Beaten, Tear Gas Fired

In Aligarh, where police beat students and fired tear gas shells inside a university. Last week, internet services on Saturday were suspended for the sixth straight day. The services were also barred in the capital of northern Uttar Pradesh. Consequently nine people have been killed statewide in protests since Friday.

Internet services were restored in the northeastern border state of Assam. The center of a decades-old movement against migrants from Bangladesh. This is also where the protests began last week.

Internet shutdowns are a favored tactic for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Authorities have interrupted internet services at least 102 times so far this year. According to a public online tracker maintained by the New Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Centre.

Internet has been suspended more than 360 times

In 2018, the #KeepItOn coalition, which works with the support of 191 organizations globally, and the nonprofit group Access Now reported that of the 196 internet shutdowns reported from 25 countries, India was responsible for the majority, with 134 incidents — almost 67% of the world’s documented shutdowns.

Since Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government first came into power in India, the internet has been suspended more than 360 times.

Authoritarian regimes across the world have used similar tactics. In Egypt, for example, the government has blocked more than 500 websites in recent years to try to stifle dissent.

India Banning of Social Media to Curb Unrest

As Iran faced nationwide protests over government-set gasoline prices rising in November, the government shut down internet access to the outside world amid violence and a security-force crackdown that reportedly killed over 300 people. That’s as Iran’s Shiite theocracy already has created a so-called “halal net,” a controlled set of local websites and services.

According to the Associated Press, Iran already bans Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other sites after protests surrounding its disputed 2009 presidential election, but tech-savvy Iranians long have circumvented those restrictions with virtual private networks and other means. In November, however, the shutdown blocked even those methods.

The Associated Press