India topped the world in internet shutdowns for the fifth consecutive year in 2022, internet advocacy watchdog Access Now said on Tuesday.
Almost half of the worldwide internet shutdowns in 2022 took place in India (84), and of these, 49 were in Indian-administered Kashmir, the troubled state in the country’s north, Access Now said.
“Authorities disrupted internet access at least 49 times in Kashmir due to political instability and violence, including a string of 16 back-to-back orders for three-day-long curfew-style shutdowns in January and February 2022,” the watchdog report added.
Kashmir has long been a flashpoint between India and arch-rival Pakistan, which both claim the region in full but only rule 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.
The government has since regularly imposed communications restrictions on the region on security grounds, which rights groups have condemned and described as measures to quash dissent.
Militants have battled India’s rule in Kashmir for more than three decades. The South Asian country blames Pakistan for stoking the revolt. Islamabad denies the claims.
Although India once again led the world in internet shutdowns, 2022 marked the first time since 2017 that there were fewer than 100 shutdowns in the country, the watchdog said.
Ukraine was second on the list, with the Russian military cutting access to the internet at least 22 times after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 of last year.
“During Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Russian military cut internet access at least 22 times, engaging in cyberattacks and deliberately destroying telecommunications infrastructure,” the watchdog said in its report.
Nationwide anti-government protests erupted in Iran last fall after the death of 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini in police custody on September 16 last year. Amini was arrested in Tehran by the morality police for flouting the hijab rules, which require women to entirely cover their hair and bodies. She died while in custody.
Meanwhile, there has also been grave concern about moves by the military regime in Myanmar that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD government two years ago. The junta said in September that people could face up to 20 years in prison for liking and sharing anti-government posts of resistance groups.
“Access to both platforms has already been curtailed, with some people using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to connect — a workaround likely to be penalized under the new censorship measures, and cemented in the disastrous draft cybersecurity law.”
- Reuters, with additional editing from Alfie Habershon
NOTE: Further details were added to this report on March 1, 2023.