Social media giant Facebook has been criticized by activists and academics who claim that their posts on the disputed Kashmir region are being deleted.
Users complain of censorship by Facebook
Facebook users who have been posting about the ongoing violence have seen their posts removed or their profiles permanently deleted. The social network removed the posts due to the “violation of community standards” by users based in Britain, the U.S., India and Pakistan.
The Muslim-majority Kashmir region has seen massive protests against Indian rule following the killing of separatist leader Burhan Wani on July 8. Wani was killed during a gun battle with government troops.
Indian security forces have been criticized due to the tactics employed to pacify protesters. However posts discussing their actions have been removed, including two posts by Professor Dibyesh Anand of London’s Westminster University.
“They (Facebook) apologised. But they blocked a second time within a day, again for 24 hours for a mild post,” Anand told AFP from London. “When a conspicuous number of posts relating to Indian state violence in Kashmir gets removed by Facebook and profiles of academics and writers blocked, it is clear that there is censorship,” Anand said.
Indian security forces accused of abusing protesters
Hospitals in the largest Kashmiri city of Srinagar have been overwhelmed by patients injured as a result of violent protests. Over 3,000 people have required medical attention, including hundreds of police officers.
In addition to violent tactics towards protesters, Indian authorities have suspended cellphone networks and the internet in some areas, imposed a curfew and taken control of newspapers. Social activist Mary Scully, who is based in the U.S., also had posts removed and started a petition asking Facebook to investigate.
“None of the posts removed have violated Facebook’s community standards of hate speech or incitement to violence but have only portrayed the violence being perpetrated against the Kashmiri people,” the petition states.
— Zaid Hamid (@ZaidZamanHamid) July 25, 2016
Kashmiris have complained about censorship since 2010, when protests rocked the area. “My account was permanently disabled when I posted a video of Indian paramilitaries ransacking a hospital,” said Kashmir valley resident Rayees Rasool.
Violence flares over territorial dispute
Facebook made a statement to The Guardian in which the company said “there is no place on the social website for content that praises or supports terrorists, terrorist organisations or terrorism. We welcome discussions on these subjects, but any terrorist content has to be clearly put in context, which condemns these organisations and or their violent activities. Therefore, profiles and content supporting or praising Hizbul Mujahideen and Burhan Wani are removed as soon as they are reported to us. In this instance, some content was removed in error, but this has now been restored.”
Unrest in the Kashmir stems from a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. Since both states gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1947 they have made competing claims to the Kashmir, which is found in the Himalayas.
Burhan Wani led the Hizbul Mujahideen rebel group, which is one of a number of organizations struggling against around 500,000 Indian troops that have been present in the area since 1989. Many people are pushing for Kashmiri independence, or a merger with Pakistan.
Campaign highlights suffering of activists
The protests have provoked a violent response from Indian security forces. One particular point of concern is the use of pellet guns to pacify protesters. Although authorities maintain that the weapons are non-lethal, many protesters have been left mutilated after being hit by pellets, with some losing their sight.
Now an NGO called Never Forget Pakistan has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the injustices being suffered by Kashmiris. They have been in contact with activists from the region, who told the group about how security forces have been attacking unarmed protesters and shooting at point-blank range.
Even worse are the claims that doctors have been harassed in hospitals for treating protesters, and some patients have been arrested while receiving medical care. The activists claim that Indian forces are protected by laws such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and ordinary Kashmiris are suffering as a result.
The campaign features the mutilated faces of Indian and global celebrities, whose features have been digitally altered to reflect the injuries suffered by protesters. Pellet holes can be seen on many of the faces, while others have had their eyes severely damaged.
The activists are calling on the celebrities featured in the campaign to speak out about the use of such destructive weapons in the Kashmir.