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Crackdown on social media in Kashmir

Some 10,000 Facebook accounts and 500 WhatsApp groups have been blocked

Crackdown on social media in Kashmir

Young Kashmiri protesters take on Indian security forces who were reportedly searching for militants in the Chadoora area of Kashmir on March 28. Three civilian protesters were shot in this incident. (Photo by Umer Asif)

Umar Manzoor Shah, Srinagar
India

April 4, 2017

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Indian authorities are suppressing social media used in Jammu and Kashmir as they consider it a security threat in the Muslim majority state.

Authorities say separatist groups are using social media to radicalize young people to take up arms against the Indian state.

"I can tell you with certainty that there is a misuse of social media by elements inimical to peace in the valley, and to our country," Kashmir's Director General of Police, Shesh Paul Vaid, told media in the state capital Srinagar.

The officer said militant groups had control over some 300 WhatsApp groups, each having more than 250 members. They also use other social networking websites like Facebook, he said.

Social media is used to "instigate young boys to reach sites" where security forces encounter terror groups and then "throw stones" to help "terrorists escape from the spot," he told the March 30 press conference.

Local media said authorities have blocked 10,000 Facebook accounts and 500 WhatsApp groups, tracing connections with terror groups operating with the help of neighboring Pakistan. Pakistan has consistently denied these charges.

However, blocking social media is a "tough task" because new replacement accounts can be easily created, said a source in a local newspaper.

Federal home minister Rajnath Singh told the lower house in parliament on April 1 that a "new trend" has emerged in Kashmir, where social media was being used by groups based in Pakistan to direct protest activity.

"I will appeal to youths not to be misled by Pakistan. Some social media applications like Whatsapp and Facebook are used to gather youths at places of encounter. These groups are based in Pakistan," said Singh.

 

Upsurge of violence

The war-torn state has witnessed an upsurge of violence since the killing of militant leader Burhan Wani on July 8, last year. Five-months of violence followed Wani's killing, claiming more than 80 lives, and injuring thousands as protestors clashed with security forces.

The church, during the protest demonstrations, has been seeking ways to help those injured by the violence. Church officials have asked for state government permission to establish an eye bank in the state to help hundreds of people who received eye injuries when police used pellet guns to put down protests.

The number of young people joining militants also increased after Wani's killing. Government records show that at least 88 local Kashmiri youth have joined the militants since July 8 last year. Records also reveal that a total of 216 violent incidents were recorded up till the end of last December, up from 143 incidents in 2015 and 151 in 2014.

According to the Kashmir based Human Rights Organization, Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), 16 civilians and 33 militants have been killed in the first three months in Kashmir.

Latest data released by the government showed 3,335 security personnel have been injured by young protesters throwing stones in the last three years.

A senior police officer, wishing not to be named because he wasn't authorized to speak about the issue, told ucanews.com that young protesters were being radicalized to the extent where they now wish to cause serious injuries.

"Not only stones, the youth now hurl petrol bombs at us. We retaliate only in self defense, if we didn't, you would find us maimed and seriously injured," said the official.  

 

Three decades of conflict

In the last 30 years, an estimated 100,000 people have died in Jammu and Kashmir, including civilians, militants and army personnel, after groups began an armed struggle for freedom from Indian rule or to merge with neighboring Pakistan. Both countries claim the region and each administer part.

The region has been a sensitive issue for both India and Pakistan ever since they become two different nations in 1947 when British rule ended in the subcontinent. The nuclear powers have fought at least three major wars over Kashmir.

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