Srinagar, February 19, 2020 (PPI-OT):In occupied Kashmir, panic has gripped the people as the authorities have filed a police case against social media users under black laws for defying a social media ban using proxy servers. Occupied Kashmir is under continued communication lockdown since August 5, last year, when India revoked its special status and divided it into two union territories.
A first information report (FIR or police complaint) has been filed against unnamed users under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). A person booked under the UAPA can be jailed for months without trial. The police said the action came against those who misused social media sites for propagating anti-India ideology.
The occupation authorities restored low-speed 2G internet on January 24 – six months after the internet was suspended from the territory – but the ban on social media continued. Kashmiris have been using virtual private networks (VPNs) to access various sites, particularly social media.
Many users had started posting updates on Twitter and Facebook, but the open FIR has now created a panic among many of them. “I did not use the social media to post any political update but I am really panicked and have now deleted the VPN and deactivated my social media accounts. It means they can arrest anyone now,” said 25-year-old university student Sehba Mir.
Some users also alleged that their phones are being checked by the Indian forces at the checkpoints to delete the proxy servers from their phones. “I was stopped outside a tertiary care hospital in Srinagar two days ago. The soldiers checked my phone and deleted VPN from it,” a management student in his early twenties, who did not want to be named, told Al Jazeera.
An official of a private telecom company said that the operators have been asked by the authorities to install the firewalls and block the blacklisted sites and VPNs. “It has become difficult to control it completely,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
A senior police official told Al Jazeera that they are “examining various accounts and screenshot after which action will be initiated”. “Anyone found using social media and posting any anti-national material can be called for questioning,” the official said, adding that “the action is aimed to find the characters spreading the rumours and take action against them through proper legal procedure”.
The FIRs have been registered under the UAPA and Section 66-A (b) of the Indian Information Technology (IT) Act – misleading people with electronic communication – but the experts have termed it illegal saying the section was struck down by India’s top court in March 2015 as it violated free speech.
Geeta Seesu, a Mumbai-based co-founder of FreeSpeech Collective, an advocacy group that works for promoting free speech in India, termed the FIR as a “sweeping generalisation to intimidate and criminalise everyone”.
“Applying UAPA is an attempt to make people – none of whom are named and identified – fearful and panicky,” Seesu said. The Internet Freedom Foundation, an organisation based in India that advocates for digital rights and net neutrality, has also criticised the filing of the FIRs.
Srinivas Kodali, an independent researcher based in Hyderabad who studies data and internet in India, termed the move as “unconstitutional”. “This is a clear violation of digital rights of people. Today it is being implemented in Kashmir and tomorrow it can become a general practice in India,” he said.
For more information, contact:
Kashmir Media Service
Phone: +92-51-4435548, +92-51-4435549