By: Shubham Ghosh
India was found to be the “biggest offender” in switching off access to internet services in response to political disturbances in 2022, according to a new report. The south Asian nation, often called the world’s largest democracy, carried out at least 84 internet blackouts last year.
The research by internet rights group Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition has documented 187 cases of shutdowns in 2022 and they introduced by governments in 35 nations, the highest number in a year since the group started the exercise of documenting internet blackouts seven years ago, The Guardian reported.
The report said the act of switching off the access caused “incalculable and persistent damage to people’s lives”. The shutdowns were mostly triggered by protests, conflict and charges of human rights violations, while some happened due to school examinations and elections.
In India, most of the internet blackouts happened in the disputed regions of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir that have seen political instability for a long time. The practice has also spread to other parts, the research report said.
Among other repeat offenders are Iran, which turned off the internet as many as 18 times as it targeted anti-regime demonstrations, and Myanmar, where the military junta imposed seven blackouts.
Russia used cyber-attacks besides missile strikes to cut off the internet in Ukraine, the country it attacked the same year, 22 times and also tried to “force occupied territories on to highly censored and surveilled Russian networks,” the findings said.
The blackout imposed by the government of Ethiopia on its rebellious Tigray region is the longest shutdown recorded by Access Now and #KeepItOn, going on for more than two years amid allegations of killings, rape and ethnic cleansing.
Most of the governments that cut off their citizens’ internet access in 2022 are those that resorted to communications blackouts after facing dissent.
“Governments wield internet shutdowns as weapons of control and shields of impunity,” Felicia Anthonio from Access Now was quoted as saying by The Guardian.
“In 2022, under authoritarian regimes and in democracies, powermongers accelerated their use of these callous tactics, disrupting the internet to fuel their agendas of oppression – manipulating narratives, silencing voices, and ensuring cover for their own acts of violence and abuse.”