The Illegitimacy of Blocking Internet Access
Buenos Aires / December 27, 2019
Protestors in India are challenging Narendra Modi's new citizenship policy. During Modi's re-election campaign, he promised to introduce a national registry of citizens, to improve record keeping and limit unauthorized immigration. Many Hindus who immigrated from neighboring countries complained they lacked the necessary documentation to prove their citizenship. After winning re-election, Modi responded to those fears by granting unauthorized immigrants from Muslim-majority countries an express path to naturalization if they belong to a persecuted minority in their country of origin. This policy pointedly does not give Muslims a path to citizenship. As a practical matter, this policy will grant citizenship to large communities of Hindus and many Muslims who have lived in India for generations will face the threat of deportation. Protestors challenge this policy as a threat to India's secular charater.
In response to the protests, the authories in Uttar Pradesh have cut off internet access (link). Uttar Pradesh's director-general of police justifies blocking internet access to combat "fake news".
Excluding Muslims from the fast-trak path to citizenship is misguided. This mistake is amplified by shutting off internet access. Blocking internet access is beyond the pale of acceptable conduct. In 2016, the United Nations passed a non-binding resolution that condemned countries that intentionally disrupt citizens' internet access (link). Access to the internet should be viewed as a human right. Blocking internet access should be put in the same category cutting off running water. No civilized nation thinks it is acceptable to deny their political opponents access to water.
Narendra Modi is making public statements to defend the legitimacy of his fast-track policy. Modi wants approval from the international community and he wants India to be viewed as a civilized nation. His advisers should warn him that shutting off access to the internet is draconian and in tension with his core ambition.