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Jammu and Kashmir govt warns WhatsApp groups to register with police or face prison; ploy to target minorities, say Muslim groups

The Jammu and Kashmir government has said all WhatsApp groups should register with the deputy commissioner (DC) in one of the districts of Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir, failing which the group administrators will face a prison term under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

This has drawn a mixed reaction from political parties with some terming it draconian, and others stressing on the need for regulation. The Deputy Commissioner (DC) Kishtwar, Angrez Singh Rana, sought a prior police clearance to start a WhatsApp group and has warned of action under the Information Technology Act (IT Act), Ranber Penal Code (RPC) and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) through the order issued on 29 June. Under the stringent UAPA even the "unlawful association" is liable for punishment of prison term of up to two years.

As per the order, DC Kishtwar will seek a report from the police about the antecedents of a person who wishes to start a WhatsApp group. Those operating the groups have been asked to report any false posts that they come across directly to the police "so that action under the law can be taken against the member" who shares fake information.

Also, the administrators have been asked to include only those members in the group who are known to them.

 Jammu and Kashmir govt warns WhatsApp groups to register with police or face prison; ploy to target minorities, say Muslim groups

Representational image. Reuters

The DC noted that the order was issued after a report from SSP Kishtwar stated that many WhatsApp groups were spreading false information and fake news, which was raising "apprehensions of law and order problem."

As per the order issued by the DC, the WhatsApp group administrators have been asked to furnish a declaration about their residential status on the basis of Aadhaar card and the phone numbers to which these groups are linked. In addition to this, they are also required to state the name of the police station, under whose jurisdiction the admin lives.

Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Kishtwar, Abrar Ahmad, said that the order about the registration of WhatsApp groups was issued after a number false reports appeared in newspapers that sought to incite public opinion against the police and district administration. "We have registered two cases under section 505 of RPC after the false reports."

He said that of the 50 such groups which are operating in the district, some 25 people have come forward to get registered. "Under the UAPA, people who are glorifying the militants on WhatsApp group will face prison."

President of Shia Muslim Federation, Jammu, Ashiq Hussain Khan, said the order could be misused by the administration. "There are many WhatsApp groups being run which promote cow vigilantism and no action is being taken against them. The order has been issued only to act against the Muslims in Kishtwar. The Muslims were targeted here in 2008 and 2013. The policies against the minority groups have led to alienation across India."

Hussain was apparently referring to an incident from 2013, when three people were killed in clashes between Hindus and Muslims after arguments between the two groups spiralled into violence, during the Eid procession in Kishtwar.

Former minister and senior Congress leader, GM Saroori, however, said that there was a need to regulate the WhatsApp groups "especially those which are promoting obscenity." He said that "the WhatsApp groups need to be monitored to ensure accountability." He, however, said that "under democratic norms" there should be no curbs on freedom of expression.

In April 2016, a similar directive was issued by Kupwara DC, who asked WhatsApp group admins to register their groups. The directive came in the wake of violence which erupted in the city over the death of five protesters killed by government forces during pro-freedom protests. However, officials in Kashmir said that not many registered their groups with the concerned administration. The government forces also turn to snapping the internet services in Kashmir.

However, interestingly, the said order has now been issued in Kishtwar, which has not seen any militant activity or incidents of communal violence for a long time. Hussain said that this was the “reason I perceive this could be part of the design to provoke communal violence."

DC Kishtwar, Rana, however, said this was a preventive action in view of any future law and order disturbance. "Although the freedom of expression is enshrined in Article 19 of the Indian Constitution but the freedom should not be misused."

He said that in Kishtwar even a minor incident like a cricket match can "trigger communal clashes." After the 2013 violence in Kishtwar, the BJP won many seats in 2014 in the constituencies where Hindus have a sizeable population in the Chenab Valley region, which is spread over three districts of Kishtwar, Doda and Ramban. BJP MLA Sunil Kumar Sharma currently represents Kishtwar in the state Assembly.

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Updated Date: Jul 12, 2018 22:48:03 IST

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