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Kashmir: Telecom firms struggle to block 22 banned social media sites

by Prasad Krishna last modified May 04, 2017 02:29 AM
A BSNL official says engineers are still working on shutting down the 22 social media sites but so far had been unable to do so without freezing the Internet across Kashmir.

The article by Aijaz Hussain was published in Livemint on May 4, 2017. Pranesh Prakash was quoted.

The government has banned 22 social media sites in an effort to calm tensions in parts of the disputed region of Kashmir, after several viral videos depicting the alleged abuse of Kashmiris by Indian law enforcement fuelled protests. But the sites remained online Thursday morning as the local telecom company struggled to block them.

The government said on Wednesday that the restrictions, to be in effect for one month, were necessary for public safety. “It’s being felt that continued misuse of social networking sites and instant messaging services is likely to be detrimental to the interests of peace and tranquillity in the state,” the public order reads.

Pranesh Prakash, policy director for the Indian advocacy group the Centre for Internet and Society, called the ban a “blow to freedom of speech” and “legally unprecedented in India.”

An official with Kashmir’s state-owned telecom company, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), said engineers were still working on shutting down the 22 sites, including Facebook and Twitter, but so far had been unable to do so without freezing the internet across the Himalayan region. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to give technical details of the effort to the media.

Meanwhile, 3G and 4G cellphone service has been suspended for more than a week, but the slower 2G service was still running.

Residents in Srinagar, the region’s main city, were busily downloading documents, software and applications onto their smartphones, which would likely be able to circumvent the social media block once it goes into effect. Many expressed relief to still have internet access Thursday morning.

“It was a welcome surprise,” said Tariq Ahmed, a 24-year-old university student. “It appears they’ve hit a technical glitch to block social media en mass.”

While the government has halted internet service in Kashmir in previous attempts to prevent anti-India demonstrations, this is the first time they have done so in response to the circulation of videos and photos showing alleged military abuse.

Others mocked the government. One Facebook post by Kashmiri writer Arif Ayaz Parrey said that the ban showed “the Indian government has decided to take on the collective subversive wisdom of cyberspace humanity.”

Kashmiris have been uploading videos and photos of alleged abuse for some years, but several recently posted clips, captured in the days surrounding a violence-plagued local election 9 April, have proven to be especially powerful and have helped to intensify anti-India protests.

One video shows a stone-throwing teenage boy being shot by a soldier from a few metres (yards) away. Another shows soldiers making a group of young men, held inside an armoured vehicle, shout profanities against Pakistan while a soldier kicks and slaps them with a stick. The video pans to a young boy’s bleeding face as he cries. Yet another clip shows three soldiers holding a teenage boy down with their boots and beating him on his back.

The video that drew the most outrage was of young shawl weaver Farooq Ahmed Dar tied to the hood of an army jeep as it patrolled villages on voting day. A soldier can be heard saying in Hindi over a loudspeaker, “Stone throwers will meet a similar fate,” as residents look on aghast.