Internet shutdowns are dangerous acts of digital authoritarianism. In 2021, authorities deliberately shut down the internet at least 182 times across 34 countries. India is the world’s largest offender, and blacked out the internet at least 106 times. This is the fourth year in a row that India can claim this dismal title.
Launching today, April 28, Access Now’s new report, The return of digital authoritarianism: internet shutdowns in 2021, unpacks the data, trends, and stories behind a year’s worth of internet shutdowns. Read the full report and the global snapshot.
“Authorities shut down the internet to shut down democracy,” said Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now. “These vicious weapons of digital dictatorship were wielded at least 182 times in 2021, disrupting not only everyday life, but attacking critical moments in a nation’s epoch — during protests, wars, and elections. That’s 182 times a leader decided to deliberately silence a people instead of empowering them to speak.”
Last year, governments exploited shutdowns to exacerbate crises, inflame wars, crack down on dissent and protests, manipulate elections, and cover up atrocities. Key findings include:
- The biggest offenders: India shut down the internet at least 106 times — making it the world’s leading offender for the fourth consecutive year — Myanmar shut down the internet at least 15 times, and Sudan and Iran shut down the internet at least five times each;
- At least 85 of India’s internet shutdowns were in Jammu and Kashmir region, where authorities continue to impose intentional internet disruptions that last for extended periods;
- India’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology released a report highlighting the misuse of internet shutdowns, and the impact on rights and freedoms, however, it does not altogether condemn their use, and fails to state one of the most important facts of internet shutdowns: they can never be justified;
- India was one of at least 18 governments that imposed mobile internet shutdowns during protests, including in a clear attempt to suppress the large-scale Farmers’ Protests;
- India shut down the internet at least four times to stop students from cheating on exams; and
- Governments in the Asia-Pacific region implemented at least 129 internet shutdowns in seven countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Pakistan.
“For the fourth year in a row, India implemented shutdowns more than any other nation — at least 106 times. Indian authorities’ bold and unwavering pounding of the kill switch must stop,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Pacific Policy Director at Access Now. “An internet shutdown is not a solution — it is a disproportionate, collective punishment that violates human rights and is unacceptable in a 21st century society. The world’s largest democracy can only be preserved and strengthened with a commitment to facilitating access to the internet for all.”