Government has ordered ban on social media websites in Kashmir. (Representational Photo)
Concerned that street protests in Kashmir valley were showing no signs of ebbing, the Jammu and Kashmir government on Wednesday ordered internet service providers to block 22 social media and instant messaging sites including Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter for the next one month in Kashmir.
This is the first time that the state government has banned social media websites rather than the Internet.
The Home Department's directive comes ahead of next month's by-elections to the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat that Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti wants to be deferred. There has been no official word from the poll panel in Delhi on the Chief Minister's suggestion but the state's top election officer has told officials of the four districts covered by the parliamentary constituency to prepare for the May 25 election.
The government had earlier this month pulled the plug on mobile internet services, in what has become a standard procedure recommended by security agencies to prevent people from circulating "objectionable contents" such as videos that the authorities say are targeted to incite people to break the law "at a large scale". Last year, the government had banned internet services for over four months.
Young Internet-savvy Kashmiris have also been using instant messaging groups to spread the word around about the next round of protests. A crackdown by security forces ends up providing fodder for the next round of protests.
Hoping to break the cycle, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had on Monday called for dialogue with the separatists at her meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and calm the situation in the valley. Around the same time back in Srinagar, hundreds of college students hit the streets in one of the busiest part of the city to protests against the alleged highhandedness of security forces who had entered a college in Pulwama earlier this month.
A Home Department order justified the ban, saying "anti-national and subversive elements had extensively misused social media sites and instant messaging services for vitiating peace and instigating violence which cause large-scale damage to life and property".