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Indian opposition claims 'Stalinist' government stifling dissent

The Indian government has blocked 309 websites since 80 people were killed and more than 400,000 displaced in the state of Assam in the past month.

Indian minority north-eastern residents wait at a train platform as they prepare to leave the city following rumours of communal violence against them, at a railway station in Bangalore on August 16, 2012. Thousands of Indians from the northeast of the country have fled southern cities after rumours they would be attacked by Muslims in reprisal for recent ethnic violence, officials said August 16. AFP PHOTO/Manjunath KIRAN
Indian minority north-eastern residents wait at a train platform as they prepare to leave the city following rumours of communal violence against them, at a railway station in Bangalore on August 16, 2012. Thousands of Indians from the northeast of the country have fled southern cities after rumours they would be attacked by Muslims in reprisal for recent ethnic violence, officials said August 16. AFP PHOTO/Manjunath KIRAN

NEW DELHI // The Indian government has used a clampdown on websites to stop rumour mongering as an excuse to stifle dissent, opposition leaders say.

The government has blocked 309 websites since 80 people were killed and more than 400,000 displaced in the state of Assam in the past month.

The blocks were purportedly ordered to cut down on rumours that were circulating after the Assam violence, which last week led to thousands of people from north-east India fleeing cities to return to their home states.

The exodus was sparked by rumours, circulated via text message and some online forums, that Muslim groups would attack people with north-eastern features, in retaliation for recent violence between Bodo tribals and Muslims in Assam.

But according to the government directives reported by the Economic Times yesterday, the blocked sites included Twitter accounts of two journalists, as well as of members of the political opposition.

Tarun Vijay, a spokesman for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), called the government's approach "Stalinist".

A number of the BJP's allies within the Hindu far-right political circles had found their accounts blocked, and Mr Vijay accused the government on Friday of "hitting [out] more at political opponents than anti-nationals".

Out of the 16 blocked Twitter accounts, he said, almost all are vocal critics of the ruling Congress party.

Some of these blocks have since been lifted, but access to the web pages remains patchy and often dependent on the internet service provider.

"I'm getting conflicted reports about what has been unblocked and what hasn't," Pranesh Prakash, a programme manager with the Bangalore-based centre for internet & Society, said yesterday.

"Some Twitter handles have been unblocked, but with the other web sites, as far as I can tell, there has been no change."

 

ssubramanian@thenational.ae