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Demonstrators shout slogans at a demonstration against the new Indian Citizenship Law in New Delhi on December 19. Indians resisted assembly bans in cities across the country as anger grew against a citizenship law that was seen as discriminatory for Muslims after days of protests and clashes. and riots that left six dead.
Millions of mobile phones in New Delhi, the Indian capital, died Thursday after the country's police department ordered major airlines to stop voice, text and internet services after massive protests against a controversial new citizenship law discriminated against Muslims.
In India, local, state, and national agencies regularly turn off the Internet in times of unrest – 96 times this year, according to the Software Freedom Law Center, a digital advocacy group that tracks the Internet. The Indian region of Kashmir is cut off since August 2012 after the Indian government revoked its autonomous legal status. In recent days, dozens of districts in five Indian states have been plunged into digital darkness as a result of the protests. In India's capital, where the parliament is located, mobile communications services were withdrawn for the first time on Thursday.
In a copy of the police agency's order, reviewed by BuzzFeed News and sent to all major airlines in Delhi, they were ordered to "stop voice, SMS and Internet services" "given the prevailing legal and administrative situation," provided a list of neighborhoods who have been ordered to cease service.
The closure occurred as part of nationwide protests against a law passed by India's Hindu nationalist government last week. This facilitates Indian citizenship for immigrants who practice all major South Asian religions except Islam. In addition to cell phones, the Indian authorities tried to curb the protests by banning large gatherings, blocking thousands of people, including prominent liberal intellectuals, and detaining and regularly dozens of train stations in New Delhi.
] Airtel and Vodafone, two of India's largest airlines, have tweeted that they will comply with government guidelines after customers in Delhi started complaining Thursday morning.
I can confirm that Airtel has lost communication in #jantarmantar. No text, no call. The moment you are outside the protest area, everything works fine. This is definitely so as not to allow the voice of contradiction to reach the masses. #Internetshutdown
09:12 – 19.12.2019
Twitter: @Nehmat_K / Via Twitter: @Nehmat_K
The tweets were deleted shortly afterwards. Jio, India's third largest airline, sent text messages to affected users in Delhi on the grounds that Internet services had been "suspended". By Thursday evening, normal service for most people had resumed.
Airtel and Vodafone declined to comment. A Jio spokesman did not respond to comment requests. A spokesman for the Indian Interior Ministry, the federal ministry responsible for national security, did not respond to a request for comment.
More than half a billion Indians use the Internet, most of them using Internet-enabled smartphones. The authorities have justified blocking access in the past because it helps to prevent the spread of rumors and misinformation, but blocking the Internet also makes it difficult to reject and organize protests.
"It's really about the capital of the world's largest democracy, shut down the Internet and shut down its citizens from communication," said Mishi Choudhary, technology lawyer and founder of the SFLC, in a statement. "This is unprecedented and could have an irreversible and detrimental effect on India's drive to become a digital leader."
December 19, 2019, 6:31 p.m.
A few minutes after the publication of this article, two more Internet closures were ordered in the Indian states of Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh, bringing the total number of Internet closures in India to 96 this year.