India, Myanmar Among Biggest Abusers of Internet Shutdowns

On Tuesday, digital rights watchdog Access Now issued a report showing how India and Myanmar used internet shutdowns in 2022 to allegedly spoil protests, protect government interests, and stifle dissent.

The report notes that the “Asia Pacific region remains a global leader in internet shutdowns . . . where people continue to experience staggering levels of targeted disruption.” India had by far the highest number of shutdowns in the world, at 84, whereas some regions in Myanmar have been cut off from internet access for an estimated 540 days as of March 2023. Many of these shutdowns are government responses to political instability, such as conflicts, protests, and elections.  

India: No signs of turning the tide

India has topped the report’s list five years in a row. Jammu and Kashmir accounted for 58 per cent of the shutdowns, down from 80 per cent in 2021. State authorities also used the tactic in 2022, including West Bengal (seven shutdowns) and Rajasthan (12 shutdowns). A Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, according to Access Now, would give state governments and the central government the ability to “suspend and limit telecommunications services when they deem it ‘necessary or expedient’ to protect public safety.”

Myanmar: Shutdowns as a weapon of war

In Myanmar, internet shutdowns are part of the military government’s strategy to repress the civilian uprising that arose in response to the February 2021 coup. In 2022, says the report, “the military consolidated control of all telecommunications providers,” and “expanded surveillance infrastructure across the country, and shut down mobile and internet connections” in various regions. Cutting off internet access has allowed the military to conceal its “scorched earth” strategy of killings, torture, ill-treatment, and arrests.” Like in India, this trend shows no signs of abating anytime soon.