Indian police open case against Kashmir social media users

Indian authorities continue to ban in Kashmir popular social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. (AFP)
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Updated 18 February 2020

Indian police open case against Kashmir social media users

  • Police say Internet users misuse social media ‘to propagate a secessionist ideology and promote unlawful activities’
  • Ban on popular social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter remains in Kashmir

NEW DELHI: Authorities in Indian-controlled Kashmir have registered a case against unidentified Internet users who employed virtual private networks, or VPNs, to circumvent a social media ban in the disputed region, police said Tuesday, in an apparent effort to stop their use.
Police said they misused social media “to propagate a secessionist ideology and promote unlawful activities.”
“Hundreds of suspected misusers have been identified and are being probed,” said Tahir Ashraf, who heads the police cyber division in Srinagar, the region’s main city.
Police said in a statement Monday that they have seized “a lot of incriminating material,” adding that the accused could be charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which also allows the government to designate individuals as “terrorists.”
Police officials questioned several users about their social media posts. However, no formal arrests have been made.
Inspector-General Vijay Kumar appealed to the general public not to use social media via VPNs.
Kashmiris are evading censorship of the Internet and social media by using VPNs, which are widely used globally to access restricted websites, after authorities in January allowed the restive region’s 7 million people to access government-approved websites, six months after cutting off the Internet entirely.
In August last year, India stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomy and statehood and imposed a total communications blackout. Authorities heralded the recent restoration of limited Internet access as a step toward normalcy, but are continuing a ban on popular social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.
Police officer Ashraf said “misuse of social media has caused widespread disinformation and fake news.” It was unclear whether authorities would clamp down on general social media users over the ban on use of social media sites.
Since the Internet ban was partially lifted on Jan. 25, some Kashmiris have shared access to banned sites through VPNs and taken to the web to denounce the government’s actions in the region.
Critics say the tight Internet restrictions are “far worse censorship than anywhere in the world” and could spearhead a new level of government control over information allowing it to further restrict freedoms in Kashmir.
“Everything is policed here. There’s no privacy in our lives,” said Ikram Ahmed, a university student. “Now we will have people in jails for mere use of social media.”
The portion of the divided Kashmir region that India controls is one of the most militarized places in the world.
Kashmiri rebels have fought for decades for its independence or unification with Pakistan, which administers the other part of Muslim-majority Kashmir.
Archrivals India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the territory, both claiming it in its entirety.


Norway urges Israel not to annex parts of the West Bank

Updated 02 June 2020

Norway urges Israel not to annex parts of the West Bank

  • "Any unilateral step would be detrimental to the (peace) process," Norway's FM said

OSLO: Norway, which chairs a group of international donors to the Palestinians, urged Israel on Tuesday not to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
Norway heads the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), which met on Tuesday to discuss Israel’s plan to extend its sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, occupied territory that Palestinians seek for a state.
“Any unilateral step would be detrimental to the (peace) process, and annexation would be in direct violation and contravention of international law,” Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide told Reuters after the meeting.
Norway helped to broker the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords, which provided for interim and limited Palestinian self-rule in the occupied territories, and initiated a now-moribund long-term peace process.
Soereide said she had spoken on Tuesday with her Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, to urge Israel to resume direct talks with the Palestinians and avoid unilateral moves.
“It would undermine the potential for a two-state solution,” she said.
The AHLC meeting also urged donors to fulfil their financial commitments to the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations’ Palestinian aid agency to help fight the spread of the new coronavirus.
West Bank health authorities reported 388 cases of coronavirus with two deaths as of Monday, while in Gaza, 61 cases and one death were registered.
Soereide praised cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians on the issue, as well as between the Palestinians and the United Nations, but cautioned that a lack of testing meant the numbers could be higher.