Statement on Digital Censorship in Punjab

The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) is alarmed by the illegal censorship continuing in the State of Punjab.

28 March, 2023
2 min read

March 28, 2023

The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) is alarmed by the illegal censorship continuing in the State of Punjab. These measures by the State Government of Punjab and the Union Government of social media posts and social media accounts, as well as prolonged internet shutdowns in March, 2023 are in violation of the Constitution of India.

Today, news reports indicate that the Twitter account (rather than a specific webpost) of BBC News Punjabi has been withheld in India under a legal demand. The legal order for this has not been made available by public authorities, which will provide knowledge of reasons for censorship and ability to legally contest it. Thereby, secrecy in blocking of online content, which is a continuing administrative practice, undermines the fundamental right to receive information.

We would also like to indicate that, as per the Lumen Database, limited transparency in disclosure of URLs directed to be blocked on Twitter has evidenced demands to block social media accounts of journalists, reporters and commentators in the past few days. The blocking directions were preceded by the decision of the Government of Punjab to shut down mobile internet services in the entirety of the state for a period of 4 days beginning on March 18, 2023, and for 3 days more in select districts in the state from March 21 to 24. This overbroad and disproportionate restriction has resulted in a deprivation of several fundamental rights such as freedom of trade and business, from gig workers to technology start-ups.

As firm believers in the Constitution of India, which includes the territorial integrity of India and the full protection of fundamental rights to every Indian, we are concerned that these actions impact the 27 million residents of Punjab, whose right to access information through reliable journalists and the press and access the internet are being unlawfully restricted. It is only likely to lead to further public anxiety and rumor-mongering thereby damaging citizen trust. To remedy such illegal, secretive and disproportionate censorship, IFF will address representations to the appropriate public authorities. This is in continuation with our consistent work to advance the rights of Indians in non-partisan manner with actions in states such as Rajasthan, Haryana, West Bengal and Meghalaya.

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