According to an official notification released on Monday, the Manipur government has decided to extend the suspension of mobile data internet services until October 21. The state government has stated that the extension of the restriction is meant “to thwart the activities and designs of anti-national and anti-social elements…” The government has announced its intention to initiate legal proceedings against anyone discovered sharing images and videos depicting acts of violence, to maintain peace amongst the people.
Unrest Continues in Manipur
The ongoing turmoil in Manipur has now extended into its sixth month, with Churachandpur, the focal point of the ethnic divide between the Meitei majority and the Kuki minority tribes, remaining in a state of disorder.
The persistent conflict that has gripped Manipur since May has resulted in the loss of over 170 lives, with a minimum of 1,430 individuals sustaining injuries, and more than 50,000 people being displaced, according to police statistics. It began as the Kukis initiated protests – the Tribal Solidarity March – in response to the Meiteis’ requests for official tribal status. The Kukis contended that such recognition would bolster their existing sway over the government and society, potentially enabling them to acquire land or establish residences in regions primarily inhabited by Kukis.
Mobile internet services were initially prohibited on May 3 due to the outbreak of violence in the state. They were later restored on September 23 through Chief Minister N Biren Singh’s declaration. Nevertheless, on September 26, mobile internet services were once more suspended following public unrest in the Imphal valley, sparked by the widespread circulation of photographs depicting the bodies of two missing students.
As reported by PTI, over 30 students, predominantly girls, sustained injuries during the protests on September 25, when the police deployed tear gas and baton charges to disperse a crowd protesting the alleged abduction and killing of the youth in July.
On September 27, an angry crowd set ablaze a regional office belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Manipur’s Thoubal district.
In response to the wave of protests, the Manipur government decided to prolong the application of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) for an additional six months, designating the entire northeastern state as a ‘Disturbed Area’, with the exception of regions falling under the authority of 19 specific police stations.
The Crucial Role of Information Flow
The ethnic conflict has escalated to a point where intervention from the United Nations was deemed necessary, earlier last month. UN experts sounded an alert regarding the troubling accounts of severe human rights violations, which encompassed acts such as sexual violence, killings, property destruction, torture, forced displacement, and maltreatment.
Although the government has asserted that the internet was utilized for disseminating rumours, information from the field and expert analysis indicate a different perspective. Apar Gupta, advocate and the Founder and Director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, has stated in an article in The Hindu that, “In an Internet ban, misinformation spreads rather than abates.”
Several human rights organizations have also consistently expressed criticism of the statewide internet suspension. They argue that this blackout has hindered the world from “seeing the true extent of human rights violations” taking place in the state. Moreover, there is a lack of data or concrete examples demonstrating that the disruption of internet connectivity has effectively prevented acts of violence.
For over two months, there has been a near-total internet blackout in #Manipur.— Amnesty International (@amnesty) July 24, 2023
These blackouts prevent the world from seeing the true extent of the serious human rights violations taking place in Manipur.
The restrictions must be lifted immediately. pic.twitter.com/xuaAn7WRcw
The ban will remain in effect until 7:45 p.m. on October 21.