Internet penetration in India rose by a significant margin to 29.6% between June 2016 and May 2017, but network and social media shutdowns ordered by authorities nullified the improved access, says a report on internet freedom released on Tuesday.
“There was also an increase in the number of criminal charges for online speech filed under the IT Act and provisions of the penal code,” the report by human rights group Freedom House noted. “Many people were detained for content circulated on WhatsApp or published on Facebook, including group administrators who were not responsible for the content.”
The report – a study on internet freedom in 65 countries – found that over 20 people were detained for publishing comments about religious or political issues, and that the number of network shutdowns had increased substantially. However, the rights group said internet freedom in India remained stable in 2017.
India scored 41 in the report’s internet freedom index. Those with a score of zero are the nations where citizens enjoy the most freedom online, while 100 denotes those that are least free.
The report also found that 30 of the governments studied were following the example set by Russia and China, manipulating social media and suppressing dissent online. The number of such countries is up from 23 last year. “The use of paid commentators and political bots to spread government propaganda was pioneered by China and Russia but has now gone global,” said Michael Abramowitz, the president of Freedom House.