India leads world on internet shutdowns for fifth straight year

Modi government accused of trying to control speech, particularly on social media

WhatsApp will allow users to connect via proxy servers for the first time to allow users to stay online when an internet shutdown is in place. PA
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India imposed the highest number of internet blackouts of any country in the world for the fifth consecutive year, an internet watchdog said in its latest report.

Access Now, a New York-based digital rights advocacy, on Tuesday released its latest report documenting internet shutdowns in 2022.

India, the world’s largest democracy, topped the list with 84 incidents out of a total of 187.

More than half were in the restive Jammu and Kashmir region that is divided between India and Pakistan.

Ukraine, which is in the middle of a war with Russia, had 22 internet shutdowns.

There were 18 incidents of internet blackouts reported in Iran, which was gripped by violent protests over the killing of a 22-year-old woman by the police for breaching the country's strict dress code.

The world's longest active shutdown is in Tigray in Ethiopia.

The African region has been shut off from telecoms services since the beginning of a civil war on November 4, 2020.

India has one of the largest internet markets in the world but has seen frequent shutdowns.

Critics say the blackouts are part of the government’s move to control speech and tighten its grip on social media.

Prime minister Narendra Modi's government banned all telecommunication services including the internet in Kashmir for months in 2019 after stripping the region of its limited autonomy.

The government had said the ban was imposed to prevent violence.

“Authorities disrupted internet access at least 49 times in Jammu and Kashmir due to political instability and violence, including a string of 16 back-to-back orders for three-day-long curfew-style shutdowns in January and February 2022,” the report said.

The report also said that the disruptions had an impact on the lives of millions of people who depend on the internet for work, education and business.

Zach Rosson, a data analyst at Access Now, said last year “was a catastrophe for human rights”.

Updated: March 01, 2023, 8:48 AM