Indian police open case against Kashmir social media users

Indian authorities continue to ban in Kashmir popular social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. (AFP)
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Updated 18 February 2020

Indian police open case against Kashmir social media users

  • Police say Internet users misuse social media ‘to propagate a secessionist ideology and promote unlawful activities’
  • Ban on popular social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter remains in Kashmir

NEW DELHI: Authorities in Indian-controlled Kashmir have registered a case against unidentified Internet users who employed virtual private networks, or VPNs, to circumvent a social media ban in the disputed region, police said Tuesday, in an apparent effort to stop their use.
Police said they misused social media “to propagate a secessionist ideology and promote unlawful activities.”
“Hundreds of suspected misusers have been identified and are being probed,” said Tahir Ashraf, who heads the police cyber division in Srinagar, the region’s main city.
Police said in a statement Monday that they have seized “a lot of incriminating material,” adding that the accused could be charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which also allows the government to designate individuals as “terrorists.”
Police officials questioned several users about their social media posts. However, no formal arrests have been made.
Inspector-General Vijay Kumar appealed to the general public not to use social media via VPNs.
Kashmiris are evading censorship of the Internet and social media by using VPNs, which are widely used globally to access restricted websites, after authorities in January allowed the restive region’s 7 million people to access government-approved websites, six months after cutting off the Internet entirely.
In August last year, India stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomy and statehood and imposed a total communications blackout. Authorities heralded the recent restoration of limited Internet access as a step toward normalcy, but are continuing a ban on popular social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.
Police officer Ashraf said “misuse of social media has caused widespread disinformation and fake news.” It was unclear whether authorities would clamp down on general social media users over the ban on use of social media sites.
Since the Internet ban was partially lifted on Jan. 25, some Kashmiris have shared access to banned sites through VPNs and taken to the web to denounce the government’s actions in the region.
Critics say the tight Internet restrictions are “far worse censorship than anywhere in the world” and could spearhead a new level of government control over information allowing it to further restrict freedoms in Kashmir.
“Everything is policed here. There’s no privacy in our lives,” said Ikram Ahmed, a university student. “Now we will have people in jails for mere use of social media.”
The portion of the divided Kashmir region that India controls is one of the most militarized places in the world.
Kashmiri rebels have fought for decades for its independence or unification with Pakistan, which administers the other part of Muslim-majority Kashmir.
Archrivals India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the territory, both claiming it in its entirety.


Trump finally dons mask as US sets new virus case record

Updated 10 min 3 sec ago

Trump finally dons mask as US sets new virus case record

  • “I’ve never been against masks but I do believe they have a time and a place,” POTUS tells reporters
  • The US is the worst hit by COVID-19, with more than 3.2 million cases and at least 134,000 deaths as of Saturday

BETHESDA, USA: President Donald Trump finally yielded to pressure and wore a face mask in public for the first time on Saturday as the US posted another daily record for coronavirus cases, while Disney World reopened in a state hit hard by the pandemic.

White House experts leading the national fight against the contagion have recommended wearing face coverings in public to prevent transmission of the illness.

But Trump had repeatedly avoided wearing a mask, even after staffers at the White House tested positive for the virus and as more aides have taken to wearing them.

Hours after the World Health Organization urged countries to step up control measures to rein in the disease, Trump donned a dark mask bearing the presidential seal as he visited wounded military veterans at the Walter Reed military hospital in a suburb outside Washington.

“I’ve never been against masks but I do believe they have a time and a place,” he told reporters as he left the White House.

Trump is trailing Democrat Joe Biden in the polls ahead of a November election and surveys show most Americans are unhappy with how he has handled the public health crisis.

But the president has continued to praise his own response to the pandemic despite a cascade of figures showing the extent of the disease’s spread across the United States.

 

Record-breaking numbers

The country posted yet another daily record of confirmed cases on Saturday night, with 66,528 new infections, while the death toll rose by almost 800 to nearly 135,000.

As of Saturday, the US had recorded more than 3.2 million coronavirus cases and at least 134,000 deaths from the disease. 

It is the country worst hit by the illness, followed by Brazil — which surpassed 70,000 deaths on Friday.

The coronavirus pandemic has infected over 12.5 million people, killed over 560,000 and triggered massive economic damage since the disease was first detected in China late last year.

In Florida, where nearly one in six of those new infections were recorded, the Walt Disney World theme park partially reopened after four months of shutdown prompted by the virus.

Hundreds of people queued to enter the park in Orlando, some sporting Mickey ears but all wearing face masks, with social distancing and other hygiene precautions also in place.

Days earlier, top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said that Florida had begun reopening before meeting the criteria that would have enabled it to do so safely.

 

Aggressive approach urged

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on countries to adopt an aggressive approach to tackling the virus, citing successful mitigation efforts in Italy, South Korea and elsewhere.

“Across all walks of life, we are all being tested to the limit,” he told a virtual news conference in Geneva on Friday.
“Only aggressive action combined with national unity and global solidarity can turn this pandemic around,” he added.

Elsewhere, French officials warned of rising cases in metropolitan France as the death toll there topped 30,000.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted a decision to allow bars and other businesses to reopen may have come “too soon” after his country reported a record 1,500 new infections on Friday.

Australian authorities said they would slash by half the number of people allowed to return from overseas each day after a fresh surge in cases that saw a lockdown imposed on Melbourne, the country’s second-largest city.

In Hong Kong, a spike has marked a setback for the city after daily life had largely returned to normal, with restaurants and bars resuming regular business and cultural attractions reopening.

Schools in the city will be closed from Monday after the city recorded “exponential growth” in locally transmitted infections.