Srinagar: India must immediately end its ban on social media networks and on mobile internet services in the State of Jammu and Kashmir and guarantee freedom of expression for citizens, say two United Nations human rights experts in a press statement published on UN High Commissioner’s website.
The 30-day ban was imposed on 17 April following widespread student demonstrations. The Government blocked access to 22 websites and applications, including WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, and 3G and 4G data services for mobile phones and other devices were suspended.
“The scope of these restrictions has a significantly disproportionate impact on the fundamental rights of everyone in Kashmir, undermining the Government’s stated aim of preventing dissemination of information that could lead to violence,” the experts said in the statement.
“The internet and telecommunications bans have the character of collective punishment,” stressed the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, “and fail to meet the standards required under international human rights law to limit freedom of expression”
The experts noted that in 2016 the Human Rights Council, the central human rights body in the United Nations system, condemned such online disruptions and called upon States to avoid such shutdowns, the statement added.
“Denying such access disrupts the free exchange of ideas and the ability of individuals to connect with one another and associate peacefully on matters of shared concern,” the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, was quoted in the statement as saying.
The Special Rapporteurs said that there had already been an estimated 31 reported cases of social media and internet bans since 2012 in Jammu and Kashmir, noting what seems to be a worrying pattern aimed at curbing protests and social unrest in the region, the statement added.
“We call on the Indian authorities to guarantee freedom of expression in Jammu and Kashmir and to seek a solution for the social and political conflicts of the region through an open, transparent and democratic dialogue.”