Authorities in parts of the northern state of Kashmir in India have issued a statement directing residents to register WhatsApp Groups they administer.
In the message sent out on Tuesday, January 7, the police stated that the move is aimed at promoting peace and communal harmony. Some of the affected districts are Leh (Ladakh) and Kargil.
The move, according to the police, will make the admins responsible for the content shared in their respective groups.
The police warned members of the public against circulating “objectionable, incriminating video, audio, images and texts” saying action will be taken against culprits under relevant sections of the law.
“General public of the district is hereby requested to desist from the misuse of social media platforms by uploading sensitive content which may pose grave threat to peace and communal harmony in the district, ” a statement from Kargil – Ladakh authority reads in part.
“It’s implored on the general public of the District to bring the notice of police any such misuse of social media for timely action. All the admins of unregistered WhatsApp groups are directed to get their groups registered at the respective Police station/Police post within two days positively.”
The warning comes after a five-month internet shutdown in the region. The ban is still ongoing in some parts of Kashmir.
In August 2019, the Indian government blocked internet and telecom services in Jammu and Kashmir saying the ban was intended at maintaining law and order.
The Indian government did this after it scrapped Article 370 of the Indian constitution and revoked the state’s autonomy.
While the government maintains that the WhatsApp admins directive is geared at promoting peace and harmony in the society, there are concerns that it will be a threat to state critics as it will limit them from voicing their opinions freely.
Reports indicate that in the past several people have been arrested in India for sharing content deemed seditious by the state.
Allowing authorities to monitor the content of a WhatsApp group is also seen as a tool that will curtail the right to privacy. There is no law that requires people to register WhatsApp groups.
This is not the first time authorities in Kashmir have asked admins to notify them about groups.
Last year, before the internet shutdown, local police of various districts asked people to enrol their WhatsApp groups.
In Kenya, a section of lawmakers is rooting for a Bill seeking to have Facebook and Whatsapp administrators censored and licensed by the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA).
The Bill sponsored by Malava MP Malulu Injendi proposes that administrators will be required to inform CA of their intention to form the groups and shall be required to control undesirable content and discussion on the platform they control.
Those who allow offending content on their social media platforms, the bill proposes that they be jailed. The proposal elicited mixed reactions with some supporting and others opining that it’ll be misused by the state by targeting critics.