On 23 June, we wrote to the Chief Secretary, Government of Manipur, expressing our concerns regarding the state’s internet shutdown since May 3, and the impact it has on citizens’ rights to free expression, education, healthcare, & to conduct trade. In our letter, we highlighted the SC’s judgement in Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India which directed that internet shutdowns cannot be indefinite. Since the shutdown has been in force for 54 days, the suspension has acquired the nature of an indefinite suspension.
Next, we drew on findings from our recent report on the socio-economic cost of internet shutdowns with Human Rights Watch which show that India’s poor & marginalised suffer the most during such suspensions due to welfare schemes being digitised in Digital India. Even though the April 27 Order, and subsequent orders, have been issued to prevent the spread of disinformation, we note that online news reporting is crucial for fact-checking & debunking rumours, whereas disinformation may nevertheless spread offline. Additionally, we cite studies on internet shutdowns which find them ineffective in pacifying protests & instead could potentially incentivize violent forms of collective action which require less communication and coordination.
We also drew attention to the reported use of charging people with sedition under Sec. 124-A on grounds of spreading misinformation and note that this is in contravention with the SC’s 2022 interim order which has stayed the usage of the provision. Finally, we addressed the reported blocking of Twitter accounts in Manipur, which undermines the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19 and thus act as a form of censorship. In line with the Telecom Suspension Rules, which require suspension orders to be sent to a review committee, we recommended that Manipur Review Committee immediately convene a meeting to record findings on the legality of the April 27 Order and subsequent orders.