NEW YORK – Facebook recently blocked the account of Hamas member Ezzat al-Rishq for a seventh time, only a few weeks after silencing a number of prominent Muslim voices speaking out against state-sponsored violence in Indian-occupied Kashmir.
“I condemn Facebook’s administration for closing my personal account for the seventh time in a row, and I consider the [decision] bias in favor the occupation and its dictates and against the struggle of our people for the sake of freedom,” Rishq said.
Earlier, censored dozens of posts and user accounts after the death of a Kashmiri freedom fighter Burhan Wani who was killed by the Indian army earlier this month. Most prominent among those blocked was Pakistani TV star Hamza Ali Abbassi.
More than 70 people died in the violent protests that spread across Kashmir in the aftermath of Wani’s killing. An indefinite curfew, now entering its 4th week – was also imposed by the Indian government to control the growing wave of unrest.
Mobile phone coverage, landlines and internet services have been blocked throughout the region, except in the main city of Srinagar. Police have also raided newspaper offices, seizing thousands of printed copies.
Kashmiris say that the information blackout has been exacerbated by censorship on Facebook.
“There are no papers and we only get two TV news channels,” said Zargar Yasir, a Kashmiri blogger and PhD student who said his account was blocked for more than a week, with some posts removed, after he linked to a self-authored blogpost about Wani.
“When there’s no news, usually we turn to social media for information. That way at least we can talk to each other, we can ask our families and friends how they are, if they are OK. But Facebook has taken my account down, so how do I do that now?” said Yasir.
To get round the government’s news ban, reporters have been updating the news websites and posting on social media to keep people informed, Theguardian reported.
Mubashir Bukhari, a journalist writing for a paper called Kashmir Monitor said: “When I came into work yesterday, I saw that Facebook had removed a video we had posted. The video showed Syed Ali Shah Ghelani condemning the death of Burhan Wani. We have never had anything else removed from our Facebook page.”
Without credible information or access to communication channels there is an atmosphere of uncertainty in the Muslim-majority region. “There are so many rumors flying around, people saying ‘Did you hear about this man who died?’ when the man is still alive. Or did you hear about that shooting here? When actually it happened somewhere else,” said Yasir.