India shut down the internet in the state of Assam on Thursday, after citizens took to the streets to protest a controversial new citizenship rule. It’s the latest example of a worrying worldwide trend: cutting online access to control the people.
On Wednesday, India’s government approved the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which creates a path for citizenship for minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh (but not for the country’s Muslim minority). In the state of Assam, where residents have long been unhappy about immigration from nearby Bangladesh, protesters set fire to train stations. The government sent in troops and shut down the internet, according to CNN.
In an increasingly connected world, shutdowns are a way to stop protest and are considered by many to be “one of the defining tools of government oppression” in the modern age. In 2016, the United Nations condemned internet shutdowns as a violation of human rights and freedom of expression. Notably, countries like Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and India had suggested amendments to this resolution.
Internet shutdowns are also becoming more common. According to the group Internet Shutdowns, which tracks shutdowns in India specifically, there were three when it started in 2012. This year there were 89, more than in any year except 2018, when there were 134. Worldwide, the numbers don’t look much better. The digital rights group Access Now has tracked internet shutdowns since 2016. According to its 2018 report, the most recent one available, the numbers are on the rise: from 75 shutdowns in 2016 to 196 in 2018. India continues to lead the pack.