By Rhea Mogul
Indian authorities have blocked internet access for about 27 million people in the state of Punjab for a fourth straight day — one of the country’s most extensive blackouts in recent years — as police search for a Sikh separatist on the run.
The Punjab government initially announced a 24-hour internet ban on Saturday as authorities launched an operation to arrest Amritpal Singh, a popular leader within the separatist Khalistan movement that seeks to establish a sovereign state for followers of the Sikh religion.
The internet shutdown — which affects everyone in the northern Indian state — was extended by the government for a third time to midday Tuesday under a law that allows the connection to be cut to “prevent any incitement to violence and any disturbance of peace and public order.”
Police in Punjab have justified the internet shutdown as a means to maintain law and order and stop the spread of “fake news.”
Dramatic scenes captured on video and broadcast on local television showed hundreds of Singh’s supporters, some holding swords and sticks, walking through the streets of Punjab. Police and paramilitary troops were deployed across several districts in the state in a bid to maintain law and order.
At least 112 people have been arrested, Punjab police said Sunday, while Singh remains on the run.
For decades, some Sikhs have demanded that an independent nation called Khalistan be carved in the state of Punjab for followers of the minority faith. Over the years, violent clashes have erupted between followers of the movement and the Indian government, claiming many lives.
The Khalistan movement is outlawed and considered a grave national security threat by the Indian government, but maintains a level of support among some Sikhs within the country and overseas.
In a statement Sunday, the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) condemned the “draconian” operation to arrest Singh and said it feared “Singh’s detention may be used to orchestrate a false encounter and facilitate his extrajudicial murder.”
Over the weekend, some of Singh’s supporters vandalized the Indian High Commission in London, prompting UK authorities to condemn the incident…
This story was originally published in cnn.com. Read the full story here