Internet black out in Punjab after police start massive search hunt for Amritpal Singh

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Life in the north Indian state of Punjab was paralysed by an internet shutdown, affecting millions of people, imposed as part of a huge manhunt for Waris Punjab de chief Amritpal Singh.

Initially the government noticementioned that the blackout would be for 24 hours it was launched on Saturday, but it was extended three times later.

Police in Punjab justified the internet shutdown as a means to maintain law and order and stop the spread of “fake news.”

The crackdown comes a month after Amritpal Singh and his supporters stormed a police station with swords and guns for the release of one of his aides. During the ongoing crackdown, over 100 associates of Amritpal have been arrested and several arms and ammunition meant were seized.

Punjab Police Commissioner Kuldeep Singh Chahal said Amritpal’s six gunmen were nabbed. “A manhunt for Amritpal Singh is on and we are hopeful that he will be arrested soon. A total of 78 people have been arrested so far and further searches and raids are underway,” he added.

So far, the police have arrested more than a hundred people linked to the incident, including Singh’s uncle and driver. On Sunday, an official told the local press that the police preemptively arrested individuals who were “attempting to disturb law and order in Punjab.”

The police also arrested a woman who sheltered Singh. Baljeet Kaur sheltered Amritpal Singh and his aide Papalpreet Singh at her house in Kurukshetra’s Shahabad on Sunday night, officials said.

Amid the crackdown, the Indian government also requested Twitter to withhold Twitter accounts in connection to the incident. The list also includedsome Canadian politicians.

Diaspora in Canada expressed concerns over the suspension of internet services.

“I am receiving calls from my residents and am deeply concerned about reports coming out of Punjab, India regarding SMS and internet blackouts,” tweeted Sonia Sidhu, Member of Parliament for Brampton South, on Sunday.

“I hope the situation is resolved soon & Canadians travelling to the region are able to connect with their families and friends in Canada.”

Joining the issue, Iqwinder S. Gaheer, MP for Mississauga-Malton, tweeted: “I am troubled by what I am hearing from constituents and the reports coming out of Punjab, India: authorities have enacted the mass suspension of internet services and are preventing gatherings of more than 4.”

“Civil rights and liberties should be maintained in a democracy.”

Calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government to immediately contact their Indian counterparts to express concern regarding the suspension of civil liberties and the safety of Canadians abroad, Jagmeet Singh, Leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, tweeted: “I am deeply concerned by reports that India has suspended civil liberties and imposed an internet blackout throughout the state of Punjab.”

According to media reports, little is known about Singh except that he is 30 and leads a group called Waris Punjab De (roughly translated as Heirs of Punjab). He became active in Punjab after returning to India last year from Dubai to take over from the group’s leader Deep Sidhu who had died in a car accident.