Digital censorship in Punjab: internet shutdowns and account suspensions

On March 17, 2023, the state government of Punjab issued an order for the shutdown of internet services for 24 hours from noon, March 18, 2023 (“March 17 Order”). Eventually, the order was extended state-wide till March 21, and then extended again in select districts till March 23. In three districts, the Order was extended further for a period of another 24 hours, till March 24. The state government issued these orders under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety Rules), 2017 (“TSTS Rules, 2017”), which allows the suspension of internet services in situations that pose a threat to public safety or amount to public emergency. But the orders are indicative of a rise of a templatised form of suspension of mobile internet services, where internet access is restricted as a mere formality rather than a necessity. There are also reports suggesting that as many as 120 Twitter accounts reporting on the developments in the state were suspended or withheld. We wrote to the Government of Punjab and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) stating our concerns about the internet suspension and the withheld accounts, respectively.

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