Internet users in Kashmir who are using virtual private networks to overcome censorship are facing a case that was opened up by local Indian authorities.
The authorities accused these citizens of trying to circumvent the ban on social media in the autonomous Indian region.
The police cyber division in Srinigar, Kashmir filed the case and is now investigating hundreds of suspected internet users.
Tahir Ashraf, head of the cyber division alleged that these people are misusing social media to promote secessionist propaganda and “other unlawful activities.”
With reports emerging that internet users may be prosecuted for using social media through VPNs in Kashmir, it is important to note that there is no publicly available blocking order prohibiting VPNs under Section 69A, IT Act. (1/3)
The police also recently confiscated a lot of materials that were deemed incriminating under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), India's principal counter-terrorism law.
If found guilty, the people under investigation can be sentenced with up to seven years of imprisonment.
In a press statement, police authorities in the region said that they are taking serious note of social media misuse as there have been reports that these propagate the secessionist ideology and promote related unlawful activities.
The police's action comes on the heels of the recent restoration of online access of several hundred websites by internet users in the region.
These websites include Amazon India, Flipkart, and select news websites.
Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook remain blocked as of this time.
Additionally, mobile data speeds are still at 2G speed, a policy that was possibly implemented to slow down access to information and online communication among those in Kashmir.
Restricting access to these popular websites in the disputed region did not stop users from accessing information online. It forces them to use virtual private networks (VPN) to bypass access restrictions.
It must be recalled that India banned internet access in Jammu and Kashmir in early August of last year.
This was done after New Delhi revoked the semi-autonomous status of the Kashmir region.
This decision was highly criticized by India's apex court.
Amnesty International India said that while the government has a duty and responsibility to ensure law and order in the region, it should not file cases on counter-terrorism laws based on vague and generic allegations and blocking social media sites.
Avinash Kumar, the executive director said that the Indian government must put humanity first and allow its citizens to enjoy the freedom of speech.