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PUBG Bans and Arrests in India Prompt Technology Debate

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  • Numerous cities in India banned PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) in March and threatened to arrest anyone caught playing the game in public, arguing that it is addictive and encourages violence.
  • 21 people were arrested during the bans, some of whom were convicted in court and forced to pay fines.
  • The bans were all lifted by early May, but their lasting impact raised questions on personal freedom, regulation, and public health.

PUBG Takes Over India

Several cities in India banned the popular game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) in March, resulting in the arrests of 21 individuals found playing the game in public, and sparking a debate on technology, personal freedom, and public health that has carried on even after the bans were lifted.

PUBG is an online multiplayer survival game that topped the charts all over the world. PUBG was first released by a South Korean developer on PCs and Xbox One consoles in 2017, but it was not until the next year that the game became huge in India. It rose in popularity in the country after it started being offered as a free smartphone app.

After that, PUBG exploded in India. Within a few months, it became the top-grossing app on Android in the country, a rank it still holds. In other words, PUBG’s popularity in India is almost entirely unprecedented.

However, the game quickly started to create some serious problems. In August, one of the first negative impacts of the game was seen when a 15-year-old boy was admitted to a clinic for alleged PUBG addiction.

Everything escalated from there. In January of this year, a fitness trainer from the Kashmir region was admitted to the hospital after he began self-harming because he was “addicted” to the game. Then, in early February, a teenager committed suicide after his parents refused to give him a new phone to play the game.

Unsurprisingly, those events and others similar to them sparked some fierce backlash. Locals in the Kashmir region called on the government to ban PUBG after the fitness trainer was hospitalized.

That same month, an activist in India demanded a national ban on the game, arguing that it promoted violence and cruelty. Shortly after that, an 11-year-old boy filed a separate court petition to ban PUBG, saying it encourages violence and cyberbullying.

PUBG Bans

In response, some Indian states started taking matters into their own hands.

At the end of January, the state of Gujarat banned PUBG in schools, claiming that students were getting addicted to the game and it was “adversely affecting their studies.” Then, in early March, police in the city of Rajkot, which is in Gujarat, announced they were banning the game altogether.

“From the various sources, it comes to our knowledge that after playing games like [PUBG,] violent traits are shown to be increased in youth and children,” Rajkot Police Commissioner Manoj Agarwal wrote in a statement.

“Due to these games, the education of children and youth are being affected and it affects the behaviour, manners, speech and development of the youth and children.”

Agarwal also said that anyone found playing the game in public would be jailed and fined. He was not bluffing. Just within the first week of announcing the ban, they arrested 10 people for playing PUBG.

The ban also had a spillover effect. Less than a week later, other large cities in Gujarat started banning the game too. By mid-March, Gujarat state police had reportedly arrested 21 people for playing the game in public, most of whom were college students.

In some of the cities in Gujarat, plainclothes cops scoped gamers outside college campuses, cafés, youth hostels, and other places where they could find young people playing games on their phones.

While some got off with a slap on the wrist, others were charged, convicted in court, and fined. Some people were even put in jail briefly.

Response

One of the cities that instituted the ban was Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad’s police commissioner, A.K. Singh, who signed off on the ban in his city, told BuzzFeed News that he did so because the game was “leading to behavioral change and addiction among the city’s youngsters.”

Singh also said that he had received numerous complaints from parents saying their kids were becoming more aggressive and isolated and that the game was addictive. On the other side, Buzzfeed News also spoke to an anonymous young person who had been arrested for playing the game.

“I’m really not sure what behavioral changes the police are talking about,” the individual said. “We play it purely for entertainment. It’s a stress-buster. Sure, it’s true that a lot of school and college kids play it more than it is healthy for them. But surely the police have bigger fish to fry than arresting them?”

Those bans were all short-lived. Some cities lifted the ban barely a month after imposing them, with authorities saying because exams in state school were finished, kids did not need to focus on studies anymore. In other cities, like Rajkot, the bans were called off in April and early May.

However, these bans have still created a broader debate about technology and regulation in India. In April, government officials in India banned popular the app TikTok, arguing that it exposed minors to pornography.

Though they went back on that a few days later and reversed the ban, that event, as well as the PUBG bans, have left many people wondering if outright prohibition is the right move.

Also in April, a New Dehli-based organization called the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), filed a complaint against the PUBG ban in Gujarat.

“For a young student who is worried about his family’s reaction and future career prospects, being arrested by the police can be a deeply traumatic experience,” IFF wrote on their website. “To us, the PUBG ban is fuelled by moral panic, and the harms from video games require scientific studies and non-legal methods of engagement.”

The court reportedly threw the case out quickly, arguing that there is no constitutional right to play video games. However, the case does raise some interesting questions on gaming, personal freedom, and public health.

Apar Gupta, the Director of IFF, told BuzzFeed News that rapid rate that new technology is reaching India has put pressure on the country’s perception of their citizens’ constitutional rights.“We need well-articulated regulatory processes,” he said.

“We don’t have the breadth of laws required to understand the internet in 2019, and we don’t have an enforcement framework. So bans are a natural course of action for the government. India is dishing out ham-handed solutions without having a clear direction about what its online space should look like.”

Not everyone agrees with this approach. “Everything has two sides,” Singh told Buzzfeed News.  

“If you’re a concerned parent who is seeing your child’s life getting destroyed because they are addicted to this game, you have a different point of view. If you haven’t experienced that, you care more about freedom of speech and freedom of choice. I think it’s important to take a holistic view on this.”

See what others are saying: (Buzzfeed News) (Vice) (Bloomberg)

International

Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders

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Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.


Azovstal Waves the White Flag

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.

A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.

The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.

It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.

Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.

Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.

Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.

Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands

After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.

The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.

Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.

The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.

The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.

It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)

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Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls

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Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.


Hundreds Make It Out Alive

A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.

People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.

The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.

Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.

“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”

63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.

“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.

Putin’s Plans Go Poorly

In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.

On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.

The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”

Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.

After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.

“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.

On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.

Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.

The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”

“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.

Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.

See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)

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Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished

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The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.


Settlers Get Ready to Move in

On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.

“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.

The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.

The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.

In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”

“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.

In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.

Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land

On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.

Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.

The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s

“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Peace Now) (Associated Press)

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