Human rights groups demand an end to communications blackout in Jammu and Kashmir

This statement was originally published on digitalrightsfoundation.pk on 28 August 2019.

We, a coalition of 66 women’s rights, human rights, digital rights and feminists groups, condemn in the strongest possible terms the blatant violation of the right to freedom of expression, access to information, movement and peaceful assembly by the Indian government through a blanket network and internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir since the evening of August 4, 2019. We believe 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 Jammu and Kashmir.

We recognise that the current situation is not an aberration, it is rather part of a systematic effort by the BJP-led government to silence and exclude dissent from the region: the current internet and network shutdown is part of a larger pattern of regular shutdowns in the disputed region; in 2019 alone 51 internet shutdowns have been imposed in Jammu and Kashmir. The right to access communication networks is an important prerequisite to the exercise to other democratic and fundamental rights; the people of Jammu and Kashmir have been systematically denied these rights.

It worries us that 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 valley, in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which has been ratified by India:

“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 Jammu and Kashmir. Freedom of movement has also been severely restricted as a curfew has been imposed under section 144 to stop movement during the day. These restrictions have thwarted the access to basic services such as emergency medical care – the human cost of this blackout is immeasurable. Businesses in the region have suffered irreparable losses, devastating the local economy. 5,000 arrests have been made in a clampdown since the communications blackout started.

This communication blackout has been instrumentalized to remove a provision (Article 370) of the Indian Constitution that directly impacts the autonomy of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. We are extremely concerned that the pairing of the blackout with the passage of the constitutional amendment points towards a dangerous and draconian approach to democratic decision-making – the people of the region cannot express their opinions regarding the decision and possibly have no way of knowing that the legal status of their home has drastically changed. We believe that communication networks during times of conflict and political turmoil are important to prevent further human rights violations and arbitrary measures. Given the excesses of the Indian army in the past, the lack of information and reporting from the region is extremely concerning.

We also condemn 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, 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.

The United Nations has termed this communications blackout as “unprecedented”, “disproportionate” and constituting “collective punishment”. David Kaye, the UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression, stated: “I can’t recall a situation where there has been a total blackout of not only the two-way, multi-point communication systems that we are familiar with now – anything on the internet, WhatsApp etc – but also the one-direction communications like TV”.

We urge that urgent and strict action be taken by the international community to address the international law violations. We demand that the blanket ban on the communication network be lifted with immediate effect. We stand in solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir in their legitimate struggle for the right to determination.

August 28, 2019

Signatories:

Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell (AGHS)
ASR Resource Centre
Association for Behavior and Knowledge Transformation (ABKT)
Aurat Foundation
Aurat Haq
Aurat March Karachi
Aurat March Lahore
AwazFoundationPakistan: Centre for Development Services
Baidarie
Balochistan Media Association
Beaconhouse National University Feminist Community
Bolo Bhi, Pakistan
Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF)
Center for Artificial Intelligence
Center for Cyber Security Pakistan
Center for Cyber Security Pakistan
Centre for Social Justice
Channan
Christian Muslim Peace
Combine FiOS
Courting the Law, Pakistan
Damen Support Programme
DCHD
Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), Pakistan
Farmers Development Organization FDO Pakistan
Freedom Network
Girls at Dhabas
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
Human Rights Defenders United for Digital Rights
Institute for Peace and Secular Studies
Institute of Research, Advocacy and development (IRADA), Pakistan
Internet Policy Observatory Pakistan
Internet Policy Observatory Pakistan
Joint Action Committee
Khwendo kor
Media Matters for Democracy
Minorities Rights Watch
Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights
Omar Asghar Khan Foundation
Pakistan Press Foundation
Participatory Welfare Services – PWS
Participatory Welfare Services, Layyah
Peasants women society Pakistan
Quetta City Live
Shirkat Gah – Women’s Resource Centre
Social Action Transformation of Humanity (SATH Pakistan)
South Asia Partnership – Pakistan
SPACE (Sufism for Peace & Co-existence)
Sungi
Takhleeq Foundation
The Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF)
The SAWERA Foundation
War Against Rape (WAR), Lahore
WISE
Women Action Forum Hyderabad
Women Action Forum Islamabad
Women Action Forum Karachi
Women Action Forum Lahore
Women Democratic Front
Women’s Regional Network
Youth Observatory Pakistan

International Organisations 

Afro Leadership Cameroon
Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE)
Freedom Forum Nepal
Internet Sans Frontières
NetBlocks

The post Human rights groups demand an end to communications blackout in Jammu and Kashmir appeared first on IFEX.

Source: MEDIA FEED

HRNJ-UG Admin

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

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