Last year saw the highest number of politically motivated internet shutdowns globally so far, with India being the biggest offender, a report has found.
According to Access Now, authorities shut down the internet across 35 countries at least 187 times.
It described the protracted shutdowns as “maliciously targeted” attacks on human rights that were deployed to wipe out democratic movements, crush people power and provide cover for violence.
Leaders in Myanmar and Ethiopia were found to be already replicating these tactics in 2023.
“Governments wield internet shutdowns as weapons of control and shields of impunity,” said Felicia Anthonio, campaign manager at Access Now.
“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.
As the biggest offender, India implemented at least 84 shutdowns – the highest number for the fifth year running.
Many of these were associated with ongoing struggles in Kashmir, an area which is often claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, but with both countries only ruling certain parts.
In August 2019, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party government – led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi – scrapped the autonomy of the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, splitting it into two federally administered territories.
Since then, it regularly imposed shutdowns on the area’s communications infrastructure on security grounds.
Russia also shut down the internet at least 22 times in Ukraine; Ethiopia dragged on the two-year long shutdown in Tigray, and the Junta disconnected people in Myanmar at least seven times.
Temporary shutdowns of internet access were often linked to high-profile events such as public demonstrations, conflicts, school exams and elections. For example, the majority of Iran’s 18 shutdowns were deployed during protests.
The shutdowns were also found to be used to shroud human rights abuses and violence through at least 48 disruptions in 14 countries.
“2022 was a catastrophe for human rights,” said Zach Rosson, data analyst at Access Now. “The damage internet shutdowns caused last year is unfathomable, but in 2023 and beyond it is not inevitable.
“We, as an international community, have the power and the momentum to not only stop the resurging global trend of deliberate disruptions, but to expunge it for good.”
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