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.


Zimbabwe tightens coronavirus lockdown in capital Harare

Updated 02 June 2020

Zimbabwe tightens coronavirus lockdown in capital Harare

  • Opposition movement said President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government was trying to suppress protests over a worsening economy
  • Coronavirus infections have more than tripled to 203 in the last few days

HARARE: Zimbabwean troops and police on Tuesday tightened the coronavirus lockdown in the capital Harare, blocking many cars and buses from entering the central business district as cases of infections increased.
But the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government was trying to suppress protests over a worsening economy and to stop MDC supporters from gathering at the courts where the lawyer for its leader was due to appear after being arrested on Monday.
Coronavirus infections have more than tripled to 203 in the last few days. Mnangagwa had eased the lockdown since it was first imposed at the end of March.
On Tuesday, however, police and soldiers turned away many commuters and cars, including those with work letters, at check points leading into town except critical staff like health workers as well as state employees, witnesses said.
“Please note that it is not everyone who should be in the CBD (central business district),” the police said in a statement.
A Reuters witness saw a group of soldiers and police in downtown Harare ordering people to leave the city center and shops to close.
By lunchtime businesses in downtown had shut, but in another part of town, where government offices are located, some businesses, including supermarkets and banks, were open.
The state-owned Herald newspaper, which reflects government thinking, published pictures on its website of people walking back home on foot.
There were no similar reports from other cities.
The MDC has accused the government of using curbs on movements to persecute its members and sees a political motive behind Monday intensifications of the lockdown.
“So if this is about Covid-19 why is it only happening in Harare? This appears to be more about politics than medicine or health,” MDC senator David Coltart wrote on Twitter.