India cracks down on social media
The Kashmir Walla, reports on the recent crackdown on social media, a Kashmiri journalist and editor of the independent online magazine,
IN ONE of the revolutions in the Arab Spring, it was Egypt where a dictator was toppled. On January 25, 2011, protests began in Egypt to remove then-President Hosni Mubarak, after 31 years in power.
In February 2011, Mubarak fled, which led to a victory for the Egyptian protesters. Social media played an important role in it--not entirely, but a part of it. The efforts of social media activists were highly praised for spreading the word throughout the world and helping prepare the ground for protesters to topple the dictator.
One of them was the country's most prominent revolutionary bloggers from a well-known leftist family, 29-year old Alaa Abd El-Fattah, who has been a leader of revolutionary movements for more than a decade. On October 20, 2011, Fattah was arrested and held for 15 days. He was charged with "inciting violence against the military."
The 64-year-old conflict in Kashmir has also seen many social media activists recently. Bloggers, Facebook pages, Twitter handles, anonymous users are often on the Internet. Names like "Freedom of Dawn," "Aalaw" (Call), "Hoshar Jamat" (Awakened Group), "Balayi Khuda" (God's wrath), "We love Syed Ali Shah Geelani" and "Kale Kharaab" (Hot Headed) have become common names to talk about. These are a few pages which are labelled "anti-India" pages.
After mass public protests in Kashmir in 2008 and 2010, authorities started monitoring the Internet closely. On October, 10, 2010, police arrested a bank employee, Mufti Wajid Yaqoob, from south Kashmir's Shopian district and slapped him with violating the Public Safety Act.
Police stated, "After thorough investigations, it was found that a youth, Mufti Wajid Yaqoob, S/O Mufti Muhammaad Yaqoob baba Mohalla Shopian, was influential in organizing protest demonstrations in Shopian through the popular social networking site Facebook. He was arrested and shifted to Kathua jail."
In 2011, one of the administrators of a Facebook page was arrested, held for a few days, and later released.
Social media has been a new form of spreading the word in Kashmir, as in protests around the globe. Not only social networking sites but blogs, online petitions and independent websites have played a great role in covering the Kashmir conflict (which I shall call the "Rainbow revolution," as it has had several revolutions against India), the Arab Spring, the Syria uprising or inside stories of Pakistan and China.
In countries where the government gags the freedom of expression of journalists working in traditional media outlets, many new mediums of expression have come into existence. This has helped lead to the fall of the ruling regime.
In 2005, during the "Tulip Revolution" in Kyrgyzstan--a post-Soviet country, where the battle between the President Askar Akayev's regime and the opposition intensified in March of that year--the government started to block access to various websites that were seen as promoting discontent, both local and foreign. Many social media activists started covering the revolution themselves.
A journalist and blogger from the capital of Bishkek, Elena Skochilo, also began to cover the events in Bishkek on her blog-based site LiveJournal. But all such mediums only covered the events, and they did not play a role in the protests themselves. That surge in social media activism was the ﬁrst political success story of the new media after President Akayev and his government was expelled. During the 2010 uprising it helped in the toppling of then-President Kurmanbek Bakiyev's regime.
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ACTIVISTS FOLLOW each other, and so do the regimes. As spring has paved way for a new summer in Kashmir, the government is on alert and has started a heavy crackdown on social media activists again through law enforcement agencies.
Last week, five of the 35 administrators of Facebook pages identified by the Jammu and Kashmir Police as "anti-India" were summoned by authorities. Quoting the senior superintendent of police in Srinagar, Ashiq Bukhari, the Sunday Express reported that the Bukhari acknowledged that some "anti-India" administrators had been summoned.
While the police claimed that one of the identified administrators was from Aalaw (Call), a pro-independence social networking group, the group refuted such claims. Posting on their Facebook page, Aalaw wrote:
No Aalaw admin has been arrested. It is a fake cyber-encounter. Social media is not like cable news or newspapers, which can be banned or coerced to speak the language of the establishment. We want to express our gratitude to various international media organs and some human rights organisations for their concern about the pitiable condition of free expression in Kashmir. In the coming days, you will witness reports in the international media in this regard. This is our official statement about the police offensive against the users of social media in Kashmir.
Commenting on this, the top police official Kashmir, Inspector General of Police S.M. Sahai told the Hindustan Times, "We are looking at people who express certain kind of sentiments on the Internet, which can cause disturbances. A few were questioned, too."
According to reports, different computer tools were used to trace people uploading objectionable content on Facebook and other social networking sites.
Every regime uses covert operations to keep a watch on the general public. In the world around us, we see the same happening in every corner. On March 15, 2011, a protest movement intensified against the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad, sparked by the arrest of youth who sketched anti-regime graffiti on a wall in Daraa. Several demonstrations took place in major cities across the country, and since then, the protests have continued.
A first-person account from the country was published in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting website. M.J. Baiardy, a pseudonym for a foreign-educated media professional based in Syria, wrote in April 2011 that now is the real moment for social media activism, a powerful weapon that can be used in both a positive and negative way.
"This has been especially evident since the beginning of the protests in Daraa (Syria) when you could see a radical change on Twitter," Baiardy wrote. "As soon as activists started reporting on the crackdown, you could also see the security forces propaganda spreading like crazy on Twitter."
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THE CRACKDOWNS on social media or independent media make users prone to threat. Anything which threatens a ruling regime is closed or gagged in the 21st century, even though world leaders seem like they are in a competition of who is more democratic.
"The government realises the dangers posed by social media outlets, and the jailing of Syrian bloggers in recent years is a good example of how it reacts to activists it views as a threat," Baiardy adds. "The problem is that now many users have access to the outside world, but are not experienced in protecting their identities and so can get into serious trouble."
The same thing happens in Kashmir, with arrests, threats, summons and disappearances. Such steps to crack down have been taken to avoid any wave of protests this summer.
Tariq Ali, a Marxist writer, journalist, filmmaker and political campaigner, said during a recent Faiz Ahmed Faiz Memorial Lecture recently in Delhi:
When people have to spread the word, they use whatever means they have...The state which is under threat immediately closes down the phone companies for one week, thinking it will stop them sending text messages and will make everything normal. Nothing changes, and more and more people come out...Dissent takes different forms.
In the mass protests in Kashmir in 2010, more than 120 people were killed, mostly teenagers, which caused problems for the current regime. The state doesn't want any mass protests in the valley, which makes it difficult for India to claim before the international community that Kashmir as an integral part of the nation. So every action is carried out to neutralize dissident voices.