June 22, 2023
Today marks the 50th day of Manipur's ongoing state-wide internet shutdown, which began on May 3, 2023. Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) is deeply troubled by the indefinite character that the Manipur shutdown has acquired. Initially, only mobile data services were suspended, however, since the second day of the shutdown, it has been extended to a blanket suspension of all internet services. The ongoing internet suspension is being enforced through templatised orders issued every five days. This is contrary to the Supreme Court of India's (SC) ruling in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, which prohibits indefinite suspension of internet services.
Further, news reports indicate that an FIR has been registered for the offence of sedition under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). Reportedly, the Chief Secretary of Manipur previously warned that individuals spreading "fake news, lies, rumours, or misinformation" will be charged with sedition. This is despite the SC’s interim order dated May 11, 2022, in S.G. Vombatkere v. Union of India, which put the operation of S.124-A of the IPC in abeyance. In its order, the SC specifically directed the State and Union Governments to refrain from registering FIRs, conducting investigations, or taking any other coercive measures under S. 124-A.
News reports also suggest that Twitter accounts are being censored and withheld in India, ‘under a legal demand’. However, public authorities have not released any such legal orders or demands, depriving individuals of knowledge regarding the reasons for censorship and the opportunity to legally challenge it. Secrecy in online censorship and bans, which is a continuing administrative practice, undermines the individual’s fundamental right to expression and the collective fundamental right to receive information.
IFF is deeply perturbed by these egregious violations of fundamental rights - the ongoing censorship of online content as well as the alarming non-compliance with the Supreme Court’s rulings in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India and the interim order in S.G. Vombatkere v. Union of India. We will be sending representations to the appropriate public authorities, in continuation with our consistent efforts to raise awareness about the grave threats posed to the digital rights of over 2.7 million residents of Manipur.
For press queries, please contact Prateek Waghre at [email protected].