Internet shutdowns: India saw half of all global gags in 2022

The country topped charts for blackouts for a 5th consecutive time; 2022 also saw highest total number of shutdowns worldwide

By Nandita Banerji
Published: Wednesday 01 March 2023
Protests, active conflicts, exams and elections were some of the triggers for the shutdowns worldwide. Photo: iStock__

India has had the most internet shutdowns for five years in a row now, recording almost half of all shutdowns globally in 2022, found a report by a non-profit looking into digital civil rights. The year also saw the highest total number of shutdowns around the world, even after setting India’s figures aside. 

Over 35 countries implemented shutdowns in 2022, compared with 25 in 2016, found the Access Now report, Weapons Of Control, Shields Of Impunity — Internet Shutdowns in 2022 released March 1, 2023. India saw 84 shutdowns out of the total 187 worldwide. 

Read more: Internet shutdowns hurt much more than we realise: UN rights office

Protests, active conflicts, exams and elections were some of the triggers for the shutdowns worldwide. Ukraine saw the second-highest number of shutdowns, with 22 imposed by external forces during armed conflict in the country and Yemen. Iran followed its heel with 18 shutdowns. 

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

This was the first time since 2017 that India saw fewer than 100 shutdowns; however, the non-profit is unconvinced that Indian authorities have embarked on the path toward positive, sustained change with regard to digital rights, the report said.

“Authorities in regions across the country are increasingly resorting to this repressive measure, inflicting shutdowns on more people in more places. Setting aside Jammu and Kashmir, authorities in West Bengal (7) and Rajasthan (12) imposed more shutdowns than authorities in other regions in India,” the digital rights advocacy group noted. 

The report added:

The proposed Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill,91, which would empower central and state governments with unrestricted powers to impose shutdowns when “necessary and expedient,” signals the government’s intention to continue down this troublesome path, violating fundamental rights of expression and assembly and providing opportunities to cover up human rights abuses.

“Since we started documenting shutdowns in 2016, India has accounted for approximately 58 per cent of all shutdowns documented in Access Now’s Shutdown Tracker Optimization Project (STOP) database,” the report said. 

Read more: The next phase of the internet is coming: Here’s what you need to know about Web3

In related news, the Supreme Court of India agreed to hear a plea challenging internet shutdowns in Rajasthan from February 25-28 during exam sessions, reported legal news website Bar and Bench March 1, 2023.

The petitioner called for adherence to the Supreme Court’s judgment in Anuradha Bhasin case, which held that internet blackouts could be resorted to only as a drastic measure. In Anuradha Bhasin vs Union of India, the SC had laid down procedural safeguards to be followed by the government before resorting to internet shutdowns.

Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, Pakistan and Bangladesh also ordered shutdowns during protests and China, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka blocked social media services, the report said.

Countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) are sinking deeper into authoritarianism, and internet shutdowns and censorship have become increasingly prevalent during protests and elections, it added. 

Noting the trends, 48 shutdowns in 14 countries coincided with documented human rights abuses, the report further alleged. Human rights abuses included cases where there is evidence of violence, including murder, torture, rape, or apparent war crimes by governments, militaries, and police or security forces, it clarified.

Of the 35 countries that imposed shutdowns, 33 are repeat offenders since 2016. Sixteen shutdowns worldwide lasted from 2021 to 2022 and 16 are now ongoing from 2022 to 2023, compared to eight between 2020 and 2021, the advocacy rights group said.

Read more: Safer Internet Day 2023: How long will our children surf in murky waters?

By the end of 2022, people in Tigray, Ethiopia, had endured 2+ years of full communications blackout and many remain disconnected. People in many regions across Myanmar had been in the dark for 500+ days by March 2023, the group added. 

Internet shutdowns, of any form, always violate fundamental human rights and cause incalculable and persistent damage to people’s lives, Access Now said in the paper.

Although shutdowns vary significantly in their technical implementation and effect on people’s ability to use the global internet, the total numbers of shutdowns show the global scale of the problem, it further said.

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