Image: Tauseef Mustafa/ AFP
The Jammu and Kashmir police have invoked strict provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) against people using social media with the help of proxy serves to get past firewalls, a day after a video of ailing Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani surfaced online.
According to Indian Express, the FIR has been registered under sections 13 of UAPA, 188, 505 of IPC and 66-A (b) of IT Act. This is interesting given how section 66-A of the IT Act had been struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015. A statement released by the police said, “The FIR has been registered while taking cognizance of social media posts by miscreants by use of different VPNs, which are propagating rumours with regard to the current security scenario of the Kashmir valley, propagating secessionist ideology and glorifying terror acts/terrorists.”
The statement goes on to say, “There have been continuous reports of misuse of social media sites by miscreants to propagate secessionist ideology and to promote unlawful activities. Social media has remained a favourite tool which largely provides anonymity to the user and also gives wide reach.”
After the abrogation of article 370 on August 5, there was a virtual communication black out in the region with a complete shutdown of mobile telephone and internet services. The communication blockade was lifted partially in January 2020, and even then, when it came to internet access, only certain websites were whitelisted. These included 153 websites including banking and financial services, but no news or social media sites.
This had led many people to try alternate means of accessing communication channels. The Wire had reported how some people were using Virtual Private Network (VPN) applications to slip past firewalls.
All this is particularly significant in light of the January 10 Supreme Court judgment which made a mention of the importance of internet access saying, “We declare that the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of internet enjoys constitutional protection under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g). The restriction upon such fundamental rights should be in consonance with the mandate under Article 19 (2) and (6) of the Constitution, inclusive of the test of proportionality.”
On the subject of temporary suspension of internet, the court said, “An order suspending internet services indefinitely is impermissible under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Service) Rules, 2017. Suspension can be utilized for temporary duration only.” It added, “In any case, the State/concerned authorities are directed to consider forthwith allowing government websites, localized/limited ebanking facilities, hospitals services and other essential services, in those regions, wherein the internet services are not likely to be restored immediately.”