The Indian government has launched a massive crackdown on online pornographic content. Over the weekend, the country’s communications and information technology ministry asked local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block “free and open access” to 857 websites carrying pornographic material.

While access to these pages has still not been blocked throughout the country, some ISPs, including the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) have already complied with the order, with visitors to these websites being told that they have been “blocked as per the directions received from Department of Telecommunications, Government of India,” according to local media reports.

“This is an only an interim arrangement as we examine the whole issue [of online porn] holistically,” N.N. Kaul, a telecom ministry spokesman, told the International Business Times on Monday, adding that the move was in response to recent observations by the Supreme Court.

Last month, the court had reprimanded the government for its “lethargic approach” in blocking websites featuring child pornography. The court also refused to impose an interim order blocking access to all “adult” websites.

“It is an issue for the government to deal with. … Let us keep in mind the possible contention of a person who could ask what crime have I committed by browsing adult websites in private within the four walls of my house. Could he not argue about his right to freedom to do something within the four walls of his house without violating any law?,” the court said. 

According to a leaked copy of the government order, released by the Centre for Internet and Society -- an Indian research and advocacy group -- the websites are being blocked for violating Article 19 (2) of the Indian constitution, which imposes “reasonable restrictions” on the exercise of free speech, including in instances where “decency and morality” are concerned.

According to data gathered by the website Pornhub -- which is among the 857 portals on the list of banned websites -- between Sept. 2013 and Sept. 2014, India was its fourth largest source of traffic, behind the U.S., the U.K. and Canada.

Over the last few years, the Indian government has been criticized for its attempts to curb free speech in the country. In a report released last year, PEN International -- a worldwide association of writers -- criticized India's laws on obscenity, blasphemy and sedition, which it said make "it surprisingly easy to silence others."

In December last year, 32 websites, including Vimeo, Github and DailyMotion, were briefly blocked for violating section 69A -- which outlines "procedures and safeguards for blocking access of information" -- of the Information Technology Act. In March 2015, the big-screen adaptation of the novel "Fifty Shades of Grey" was banned by India's censor board because of its sexually explicit content.

After reports of the latest ban on Internet porn emerged over the weekend, several prominent personalities came forward to condemn the move and express outrage.