SRINAGAR , India, July 29 (UPI) — Activists in India-admininstered Kashmir have launched an ad campaign to protest violence and censorship by featuring a digitally altered image of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg with pellet gun injuries.
At least 47 people in the Muslim-majority Kashmir region have died and hundreds injured in July in clashes provoked by the shooting death by Indian police of Burhan Wani. Wani, 22, was the popular leader of the Hizbul Mujahideen militant organization, dedicated to Kashmiri self-determination. The group is considered a violent separatist group and designated a terrorist organization by India, the United States and the European Union.
Security forces have used pellet guns — air guns that fire metal ball bearings — to quell protesters, prompting further disquiet. India considers pellet guns non-lethal weapons.
Responding to the discontent, authorities banned newspapers in the region for four days and restored cellphone service this week after 20 days of it being shut down. Facebook comments about Wani and about the clashes, prompted the social networking service to take commenters’ pages off the Internet, Facebook citing its policy of discouraging positive comments about terrorist groups.
“We welcome discussion on these subjects but any terrorist content has to be clearly put in a context which condemns these organizations or their violent activities,” a statement from Facebook said.
But there is a growing belief in Kashmir that Facebook is censoring pro-Muslim and pro-Pakistani opinion, as well as comments about the heavy-handedness of India’s security forces in Kashmir, a region historically claimed by both India and Pakistan.
Arif Ayaz Parrey, an editor at an environmental magazine in New Delhi, told The Washington Post his Facebook account was disabled Monday for more than a day. He said the page he administers, the Kashmir Solidarity Network, was also taken down.
“The Kashmir Solidarity page was started by a Kashmiri anthropology student in New York. This is not a hate forum, we share stories,” Parrey said.
Combined with the knowledge that Zuckerberg is eager to expand his company’s presence in India, a group, Never Forget Pakistan, has emerged, with a campaign accusing India of violating human rights with laws giving its authorities special powers. The group’s centerpiece, currently drawing thousands of reactions, is a series of doctored photos of Zuckerberg and Indian leaders and celebrities, each with facial wounds suggesting they were injured with shots from pellet guns.
The pellet guns have caused eye injuries and permanent disfigurement, and earlier this week the Indian government said it would convene a committee to investigate alternative non-lethal weapons options in response to outcry over the guns’ use. The Central Reserve Police Force, which works in Kashmir and has been accused iof overzealous use of the weapons, expressed regret earlier this week for injuries, adding it would continue to use the weapon but only in “extreme” situations.
The photo series depicts Indian President Narendra Modi, Indian opposition leader Sonia Ghandi and locally popular athletes and film stars, each with faces scarred by pellet gun fire. Zuckerberg’s is the only non-Indian face depicted. Facebook has not taken down the photos from its website.
Another activist-sponsored social media campaign is #LetKashmirDecide, a call for a referendum on whether Kashmir should be controlled by Kashmir.