Authorities in India-administered Kashmir on Wednesday ordered internet service providers to block 22 popular social media services including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp after an upsurge in violence in the region.
In a statement, the regional government said the services were "being misused by anti-national and anti-social elements" and should be blocked for one month or until further notice "in the interest of maintenance of public order".
It is the first time the embattled government of People's Democratic Party (or PDP), which rules the region in alliance with far-right Bharatiya Janata Party (or BJP), has taken such a step. It has, however, blocked mobile internet services in the volatile Kashmir valley in the past.
"It is unthinkable in this communications era to ban eight million people from using internet-based communications," writer Arjimand Hussain Talib told TRT World.
Owing to its geopolitical isolation, Kashmir heavily relies on internet communications with outside world. A whole population has suddenly been iron-curtained - Arjimand Hussain Talib
The ban comes just weeks after footage showing a Kashmiri youth tied to the front of an Indian army jeep appeared on social media. The young man was reportedly being used as a "human shield".
Gag to stifle outrage
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in the valley, where many people favour independence or a merger with mainly Muslim Pakistan.
Clashes in Kashmir have become more frequent since the killing of a popular rebel leader by security forces last July sparked widespread unrest.
Authorities say rebels and locals are using social media sites to rally support.
Locals say the restrictions are an attempt to stifle dissent and evidence of human rights abuses by the Indian army.
World's 'largest democracy' is so scared of truth coming out of Kashmir that it has to block social media for a month. Hiding war crimes!
— Gowhar Geelani (@gowhargeelani) April 26, 2017
Ban sparks anger
The ban has disrupted many businesses that depend on the internet for communication and hit the plans of many travelling to Kashmir.
"Since we have clients across the globe, we rely on messaging platforms like Whatsapp , Skype to stay in touch and provide support. Imagine what this ban is going to do to our business?" businessman Fayaz Ganie told TRT World.
"Not just me but all business owners will reject this fascism. The agitation (anti-India protests) is solely because of government's barbarism, oppression and misgovernance. How is the internet at fault?" Ganie asked.
Social Media Gagged In Kashmir: This could perhaps be my last tweet from Kashmir for now, govt has banned all social media sites in Kashmir-
— zaffar iqbal (@szaffariqbal) April 26, 2017
— faysal (@_Faysal) April 26, 2017
Gulf-based Adil Wani, who's in Kashmir for his wedding, said that he had hoped to livestream his wedding for his friends abroad and distribute digital invitation cards "but those plans have now been hit."
"It's a major set back," he said.
The three-page copy of the order that was issued on Wednesday: