Censorship

Restore Internet in Kashmir and #KeepItOn

There are multiple reports of the havoc the internet shutdown has wrought on the lives of the already beleaguered citizens. Apart from the local media, which is unable to function since August 5, there are reports of people who are unable to get in touch with their relatives, of families who couldn’t be contacted to convey news of the demise of a loved one, of students who are unable to access information of college applications…Software Freedom Law Centre’s Internet Shutdown tracker documented the number of shutdowns in Kashmir:

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There have been many statements from Internet Freedom organisations in India and across the world to restore the Internet in Kashmir. Here are a few of them:

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Statement from international civil society organisations :

#KeepItOn: Joint Open Letter on Keeping the internet open and secure in Jammu and Kashmir

As India prepares to celebrate its independence day, international civil society organizations call on the government to restore internet connections in Jammu and Kashmir.

August 14, 2019

Jammu and Kashmir has been under complete internet shutdown for the past 11 days, as per reports. India leads in the number of shutdowns across the world — 74 in 2019 to date. Jammu and Kashmir has been the center of most cases of internet shutdowns in India, contributing 54 of the total number of shutdowns in India in 2019. On behalf of the more than 191 organizations from over 60 countries that make up the #KeepitOn Coalition, we ask the Union Government of India to restore the internet in Jammu and Kashmir and keep it on.

This recent internet shutdown is also accompanied by a complete shutdown of communications, as well as restrictions on the movement of individuals for the past few days. These developments come in the background of political developments regarding the reorganization of the political structure of the region, through legislation by the Parliament of India. These include the revocation of Article 370, a constitutional provision granting the region special status. For the past few months, the region has been under the administration of the Union Government of India, and the orders for the current shutdowns have also been issued by them. The terms and reasons for the order for shutdowns are unknown. This lack of transparency is concerning and makes the situation worse, as shutdowns have been used to sometimes hide human rights abuses around the world.

The current stop-gap solution of asking people to navigate through several security checkpoints to reach the place in Srinagar where residents have to queue up to call their near ones is inadequate and another act of humiliation and atrocity in addition to the existing communications blackout. Each caller is allowed only two minutes, the number of connections is inadequate compared with the population in Srinagar and the calls are made in the presence of security personnel.

Speaking on the issue, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) through a spokesperson expressed “deep concern” that the latest restrictions in Kashmir would “exacerbate the human rights situation in the region”. They further added that “the fact that hardly any information at all is currently coming out is of great concern in itself”.

The Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, in a recent address to the citizens of India spoke of the benefits of connectivity and digital communications in India, especially the territory of Jammu and Kashmir. He said that the strengthening of “digital communication” would “enhance opportunities for earning a livelihood, and the life of our brothers and sisters of Jammu and Kashmir will become easier”. However, the recent shutdown actions are taking away the benefits of communication infrastructure and connectivity from the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Such shutdowns, in addition to curtailing fundamental rights, also reduce the confidence of the people in the benefits utility, and the security of the internet, while restricting the freedom of expression of the population.

On August 15, 2019, India will celebrate its 73rd Independence Day. On this day, India would also celebrate its proud traditions of providing people voice, upholding fundamental rights through a strong and comprehensive constitution, which is based on the foundation of international human rights. We hope that in this celebration, India commits with its obligations with regards to human rights, including by lifting the internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir so their people can celebrate their freedom of expression too.

This August also marks the two-year anniversary of the “Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017”. These rules provide the legal basis and procedure for imposing internet shutdowns in India. The problem of internet shutdowns is systemic in India, and the past two years under the current rules have only seen an increase in the number of shutdowns in India. Jammu and Kashmir, while most affected by them, is not the only region where internet shutdowns have been imposed. The state of Rajasthan, just south of the National Capital Region of Delhi, is the second most affected state in India. The current rules seem to have only made the problem worse.

Many groups in India – including from civil society and the Editors Guild – have spoken against the recent internet shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir and have called for restoring the internet in the region. Building on these concerns, the undersigned organizations belonging to the global #KeepItOn Coalition implore the Indian Union Government to:

  • Immediately lift all restrictions on internet access and to restore telecommunication unconditionally to full capacity in the region of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Refrain from restricting internet access in the future, either in these currently affected areas or elsewhere in India.
  • Publicly declare your commitment to protect the digital rights of all people in India.
  • Review “Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017” and amend them to be in line with human rights standards.
  • Publish the orders given to telecommunication service providers to shut down the internet and censor information, and explain the legal rationale behind the orders.
  • Encourage telecommunications and internet service providers to respect human rights through public disclosures on policies and practices that impact users.

Signed,

Access Now
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Bloggers Association of Kenya
Bolo Bhi
Center for Cyber Security Pakistan
Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT)
Digital Rights Foundation
International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggles
Internet Freedom Foundation
Internet Policy Observatory Pakistan
Media Matters for Democracy
NetBlocks
Reporters Without Borders
Right2Know Campaign
Open Net Korea
OXCON Frontier Markets & Fragile States Consulting
Paradigm Initiative
PEN America
PEN Melbourne
SMEX
Swathanthra Malayalam Computing
The Bachchao Project
Union syndicale Solidaires
Unwanted Witness Uganda
West African Human Rights Defenders Network (WAHRDN)

Statement from the Internet Freedom Foundation:

We strongly condemn the communications blackout in Jammu and Kashmir and urge an end to internet shutdowns across India

The developments of the past few days are of immense consequence to the future of our democracy, and the voices from Jammu and Kashmir need to be heard the loudest, not silenced en masse.

Access to the internet is a human right. Massive economic, social and individual harm caused when it is disrupted. But the human costs are much deeper. Cutting off Internet access prevents people from using the Internet to reach out for help, and makes them panic. They cannot make sure their loved ones are safe, or practice their right to expression and political participation – the government cannot unreasonably deny anyone in this country this right. We believe that internet based communications play a vital role in promoting greater trust between people and their government.

Arguments on security and public safety which are often made have resulted in a situation where India has the highest number of internet shutdowns globally. Most of these happen in Jammu and Kashmir. As per SFLC’s internet shutdown tracker this is the 51st time (atleast) this year that Kashmir has faced an internet shutdown and it won’t be the last until there is a serious reform on shutdown laws.

We have through our work consistently over months highlighted how it results in harm to different parts of India. From Rajasthan, West Bengal, Maharashtra. But tonight, we are concerned about Jammu and Kashmir. People there who are suffering from anxiety and bewilderment due to a deprivation of internet and mobile communication services. We are concerned for their safety, physical and mental care.

The last few days has underscored the need for legal reform given that as per our understanding the existing law under which orders for internet disruptions are passed undermine our fundamental rights. IFF urges the government to stop these arbitrary shutdowns that lack any sort of structure or oversight.

Jammu and Kashmir and all of India deserves better. These are our constitutional promises which must be fulfilled.

– Apar Gupta (Executive Director), IFF staff, and the board of trustees.

x.x.x
The Editors Guild of India

The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned over the continued shutdown in communication links with the Kashmir Valley and the consequent curtailment of the media’s freedom and ability to report fairly and accurately on current developments.

While some visiting journalists may be able to file their reports once they are out of the Valley, the lockdown is almost total and draconian for the vibrant local media that are the first eyes and ears on the ground. The Government knows very well that it is impossible to process and publish news now without the internet. It owes it to the people of India, including all in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, to allow the press, a vital institution of democracy, to function freely.

In a situation such as that prevailing in Jammu & Kashmir at present, the role of free media, unhindered by such restrictions, becomes critically important in helping dissemination of news and in its democratic duty of keeping a watch on institutions of government and security.

The Guild underlines the imprudence in creating an unfair distinction in the treatment: for access, curfew passes, communication between local journalists and those coming in to report from outside. All journalists and all Indian citizens are entitled to equal freedoms.

The Guild urges the government to take immediate steps to restore normalcy for the media’s communication links. Media transparency has and always should be India’s strength, not fear.

The Guild expresses its appreciation for and solidarity to all journalists reporting from the ground despite unprecedented challenges. The Guild requests all, especially the government, to ensure their safety and freedom of movement.

x.x.x

Categories: Censorship, Statements

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