Internet access remained blocked Monday in several districts of a state bordering India’s capital following violent weekend clashes between police and farmers protesting controversial agricultural reforms.
Online access would be suspended in at least 14 of 22 districts in Haryana state near New Delhi, until 5 p.m. Monday, according to the Department of Information and Public Relations of Haryana on Sunday. That order was first imposed Tuesday in three Haryana districts for 24 hours, but has been extended every day since. A 48-hour internet shutdown was also imposed in three other areas around Delhi’s borders late on Friday, with India’s Ministry of Home Affairs saying the move was “in the interest of maintaining public safety and averting public emergency.”
According to officials, those blackouts should have lifted on Sunday night, but Paramjeet Singh Katyal, a spokesperson for Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body representing protesting farmers, said the internet was still not working as of Monday.
Several senior Indian journalists are facing charges of sedition over their reporting and online posts about a protest by farmers last week, sparking criticism of the legal action from media associations. The cases have been filed with police in at least five states against the journalists including Rajdeep Sardesai, a prominent anchor on the India Today television channel, and Vinod Jose, executive editor of the Caravan magazine.
The cases, filed by residents of the states, allege that the journalists provoked violence during protests by farmers at New Delhi’s Red Fort on Jan. 26 through incorrect posts on Twitter and reports that police had killed a protester. Tens of thousands of farmers have camped out on the outskirts of the capital for more than two months, demanding the withdrawal of new agricultural laws that they say benefit private buyers at the expense of growers.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi says reform of the agriculture sector will bring opportunities for farmers. The protests turned violent on Jan. 26, when farmers broke into the historic Red Fort complex, with one protester killed and hundreds injured.
At the time, a witness told Reuters the protester was killed when the tractor he was driving overturned and crushed him but there was also talk he had been shot. Police, who had fired tear gas on the day, denied shooting him. ‘The accused tried to provoke the protesters for their political and personal gains by spreading false and misleading information online,’ one complaint filed in Uttar Pradesh state said, echoing the language of the other filings.
Jose said his journalists on the ground heard from a witness and a relative of the dead man that he had been shot. ‘This is an attack on free and independent reporting … Government wants only its official version to be published,’ he said in a statement. A lawyer for Sardesai did not have any immediate comment when contacted on Monday. The Editors Guild of India, the Press Club of India and several other journalist groups condemned the police complaints and called them an intimidation tactic aimed at stifling the media.—Agencies