Report Finds Last Year Had Highest Number of Internet Shutdowns Globally

Last year, an internet shutdown in the Indian state of Manipur lasted an astonishing 212 days when the state government issued 44 consecutive orders to switch off access across all broadband and mobile networks. The shutdown affected a population of 3.2 million, and made it more difficult to document rampant atrocities committed against minorities during bloody violence between the Meitei and Kuki-Zo tribes, which included murder, rape, arson, and other gender-based violence, says Access Now, a digital rights watchdog that publishes an annual report on internet shutdowns around the world.

Manipur was just one of hundreds of instances where authorities in India used the tactic as “a near-default response to crises, both proactively and reactively,” according to the group’s latest report published May 15. For the sixth consecutive year, India led the global list for imposing the highest number of internet shutdowns after removing access 116 times in 2023.

What’s more, Access Now deemed 2023 the worst year for internet shutdowns globally, recording 283 shutdowns across 39 countries—the highest number of shutdowns in a single year since it first began monitoring in 2016. It’s a steep 41% increase from the previous year, which saw 201 shutdowns in 40 countries, and a 28% increase from 2019, which previously held the record for the highest number of shutdowns.

“By nearly every measure, 2023 is the worst year of internet shutdowns ever recorded — highlighting an alarming and dangerous trend for human rights,” the report states.

173 of the shutdowns in 2023 occurred in conflict zones and corresponded to acts of violence. In the Gaza Strip, for example, the Israeli military “used a combination of direct attacks on civilian telecommunications infrastructure, restrictions on access to electricity, and technical disruptions to shut down the internet,” the report reads. (In a statement to TIME, the IDF said “As part of the IDF’s operations in the Gaza Strip, the IDF is facilitating the restoration of infrastructure in areas affected by the war and is coordinating with local teams to bring infrastructure repair to these locations.”)

And in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, security forces imposed a near-total communications blackout to cause terror and mass displacement through the destruction of property and indiscriminate bombing across the region, according to the report.

The watchdog also points out that while the increase of shutdowns associated with violence during armed conflict was high, in 74 instances across nine countries—including , , , and —warring political parties claimed to deploy shutdowns during protests and politically unstable events as a peacekeeping measure. In India alone, authorities ordered 65 shutdowns in 2023 in specific attempts to address communal violence. Similarly, Pakistan and Bangladesh imposed seven and three shutdowns, respectively, as a way to suppress political dissent during political rallies and election campaigning.

93% of all cases recorded in 2023 occurred without giving the public any advance notice of an impending shutdown; a practice that Access Now says only deepens fear and uncertainty, and puts more people in grave danger.

“We are at a tipping point, so take this as a wake-up call: all stakeholders across the globe — governments, civil society, and the private sector alike — must take urgent action to permanently end internet shutdowns,” Zach Rosson, a data analyst at Access Now, said in a statement.