All WhatsApp groups in the Kashmir Valley that share news among users will have to register with district authorities in 10 days, the state government announced on Tuesday amid simmering tensions over the death of five civilians in police firing.
The administration also banned government employees from criticising and commenting on official policies on WhatsApp and made group administrators responsible for any rumours spread using the messaging service.
Divisional commisioner Kashmir Asghar Samoon said the orders were issued to maintain law and order in the valley.
“There are many unauthorised news groups on WhatsApp that disseminate news. It’s not restricted to just chatting, they have thousands of followers who post news without verification and many times lead to law and order problems,” Samoon said.
The order comes after a week of violence in the valley triggered by allegations of molestation of an underage local girl by army personnel. Angry mobs have clashed with police and paramilitary forces in several parts of north Kashmir’s Kupwara district – especially in Handwara town – with five dead and scores injured.
“Government employees are for implementation of policies, if they have grievances or suggestion they can be put forward through proper channel not in public forms. In many cases government employees were seen instigating violence,’’ said Samoon.
The district magistrate of Kupwara – the epicenter of the protests – was the first to implement the order. HT has a copy of the document that makes the additional district information officer as the nodal agency.
The officer has been authorised to register the groups and keep a “vigil on the activities of such groups’.
District authorities issued the order for all government employees working in the district and warned them of strict action if they fail to comply.
In an order dated April 18, 2016, the district magistrate writes “government employees serving in the district are directed to restrain from making any comments/remarks with regard to the government policies and decision of the government on the WhatsApp news groups running in the district and if anyone is found involved in such activities, strict action will be initiated against them as required under the rules’’.
Four employees in Kupwara were suspended following reports that they were part of the protestors that threw stones at security personnel after last week’s civilian killings in the area.
The violence has brought back memories of the 2010 street protests across Kashmir where over 100 people died. Since then, WhatsApp has emerged as a potent source of information sharing for local people. Authorities even briefly suspended mobile internet services last week to clamp down on the messaging service.
“There was a suggestion by police that government employees should restrain from commenting on policies and actions as is put forth in their conduct rules,” Samoon added.
The order came hours after police arrested a local resident Hilal Ahmed Bandey, who was named by the minor girl as her molester.
In a video released by army, the girl dismissed the molestation charge by a soldier and said, “Two local boys, one of whom was wearing a school uniform created a scene by snatching her bag and shouting.”
She named a person known to her as “Hilal bhaya” who slapped her when she went to him for help after being assaulted.