A coalition of 66 women’s rights, human rights, digital rights, and feminists groups, have condemned the blatant violation of the right to freedom of expression, access to information, movement, and peaceful assembly by the Indian government through a blanket internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) since the evening of August 4, 2019.
In a statement, the rights groups said that access to communication networks, including the internet, is a fundamental human right and the current media blackout is tantamount to silencing the voices of millions of residents in J&K.
The statement adds that the current situation is not an aberration, it is rather part of a systematic effort by PM Narendra Modi’s BJP-led government to silence and exclude dissent from the region.
A few days ago, UN Secretary-General António Guterres had expressed his concern over reports of restrictions on the Indian side of Kashmir, which – he said – could exacerbate the human rights situation in the region.
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The current internet and network shutdown is part of larger pattern of regular shutdowns in the disputed region. In 2019 alone, according to the statement, 51 internet shutdowns have been imposed in J&K.
The latest shutdown has been expanded to block all communication, landline phones and cable TV in addition to the internet. Since August 4, 2019 there has been a complete media blackout on information inside and outside the conflict-ridden Kashmir valley, in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which has been ratified by India. It says:
“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
The humanitarian impact of this blackout is palatable as family members have been unable to reach their loved ones inside J&K. Freedom of movement has also severely restricted as curfew has been imposed under Section 144 to stop movement during the day. These restrictions have thwarted the access basic services such as emergency medical care–the human cost of this blackout is immeasurable.
Moreover, according to the statement, businesses in the region have suffered irreparable losses, devastating the local economy. It is said that 5,000 arrests have been made in a clampdown since the communications blackout started.
This communication blackout has been inflicted to remove a provision (Article 370) of the Indian Constitution that directly impacts the autonomy of the people of J&K.
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The rights groups also condemned the uneven application of community guidelines and content regulation by social media companies such as Twitter to silence users critiquing the official narrative of the Modi-led Indian government and amplifying the voices of Kashmiris on the ground.
According to estimates, the statement reveals, more than 200 Twitter accounts have been suspended for posting about Kashmir. Furthermore notices have been sent to Twitter users for allegedly “violating the laws of India.” At a time when voices of people from the region are being systematically excluded, these suspensions and notices amount to gross negligence on the part of social media companies.
In their statement, the rights groups urge that strict action must be taken by the international community to address the international law violations. They demand that the blanket ban on communication network be lifted with immediate effect, as they stand in solidarity with the people of J&K in their struggle for the right to determination.
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