Amid its crackdown on Waris Punjab De Chief and self-proclaimed Sikh preacher Amritpal Singh and his allies, the Punjab government on Tuesday extended the suspension of mobile internet services in select counties and areas of the state until Thursday noon.
Mobile Internet services had been suspended for three consecutive days through Tuesday noon.
On Tuesday, the Punjab Ministry of Home Affairs and Justice ordered the suspension of mobile internet services in Tarn Taran, Ferozepur, Moga and Sangrur districts, Ajnala subdivision and adjacent areas of YPS Chowk and Airport Road in Mohali district to be extended.
The order states that all mobile Internet service, all SMS service (except for banking and cell phone top-up) and all dongle service provided over cellular networks, except for voice calls, in the named counties and areas “in the interests of public safety, to prevent any incitement to violence and any disturbance of peace and public order”.
Broadband services would not be suspended, the order said, so banking facilities, hospital services and other essential services would not be disrupted.
“It is clarified that mobile internet services should operate normally in all remaining areas of the state as of noon today, i.e. 3/21/2023,” the order reads.
The districts of Tarn Taran, Ferozepur and Ajnala Subdivision in Amritsar Rural Police District lie along the India-Pakistan border in Punjab.
With Khalistani sympathizer Amritpal remaining at large, the Union Home Office had asked the Border Security Force (BSF) and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) to remain vigilant. According to an officer, a message was sent to all units from BSF and SSB, along with two pictures of Amritpal – with and without a turban.
“There is a possibility that he is trying to cross the India-Nepalese border or the international border in Punjab. They have been asked to be vigilant and to raise awareness among all staff deployed at border posts,” the official said. All airports and seaports have also been alerted.
In response to a question about the suspension of mobile internet services in the state and how long it could last, Punjab Inspector General (HQ) Sukhchain Singh Gill replied during a press conference in Chandigarh on Monday: “[The mobile] The internet has been blocked to maintain public order. This call may be answered by examination from time to time [the situation]. So far it is suspended, depending on the situation, the call is answered. See this is done in anticipation of maintaining public order. There are many steps involved in doing this and this is one part.”
While a manhunt for Amritpal is ongoing, police say, the strict National Security Act (NSA) has been invoked against five of his arrested aides, including his uncle, who was arrested early Monday. The five were sent to Assam and held in a prison in Dibrugarh.
IG Gill said Monday that up to 114 people linked to Waris Punjab De have been arrested in six cases registered between February 16 and March 19. These, he said, include the FIR registered on February 24 in connection with the February 23 attack at Ajnala Police Station.
Meanwhile, the order of the Additional Chief Secretary of the Punjab Ministry of Home Affairs said that the Punjab DGP had drawn attention to the fact that certain “sectors of society are holding protests in several places in the state and are likely to threaten public order by inciting violence and also resorting to widespread violence with the aim of fomenting and causing communal tension, disabling or injuring persons, endangering life and property, disturbing public peace and tranquility”, affecting public safety and order in Punjab could endanger.
“Considering that the Director General of Punjab Police Force has further alerted me that these sections of society are using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp etc and also Short Message Service (SMS) to spread of inflammatory material and using false rumors to provoke the mobilization of mobs of agitators and protesters to mobilize their own manpower and resources for their anti-national activities,” the order added.
Noting that there is “clear persistence of threat potential” to public safety, disruption of public utilities, damage to public assets, etc., due to misuse of mobile internet services, SMS services and other dongle services, the order said : “Hey [DGP] has further stated that there is an urgent need to curb the spread of misinformation and rumors through various social media platforms… via mobile internet services, SMS and other dongle services that could provoke further mobilization of mobs of agitators and protesters who could pose a threat to public safety, serious deaths, and damage to public and private property from arson or vandalism and other types of violence.”
Amid the crackdown on Amritpal and his associates, the Twitter accounts of several users, including some journalists reporting from Punjab, were also withheld “after analyzing the content”.
When asked about the suspension of Twitter accounts, Gill Monday declined to comment, saying it was part of a “holistic” approach and he had no specifics. “I would like to urge Punjab citizens not to heed any fake news or rumors as many people are trying to spread them,” he had said.