Kashmir: India top court orders review of longest internet shutdown

Saturday, 11 Jan, 2020

In a ruling that was critical of the government but stopped short of overturning the communication and transport restrictions that have been in place since Aug 5 when Mr Modi scrapped almost seven decades of autonomous status of Kashmir, the Supreme Court ordered the government to review them in Kashmir within seven days.

The Congress on Friday said that the Supreme Court's ruling that dissent can not be suppressed by imposition of prohibitory orders in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) had given a jolt to the Modi-led government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government ended the semi-autonomous status of the majority of Muslims in Kashmir in August.

The Supreme Court ruling won't lead to an immediate restoration of Internet access in Kashmir, however.

There is still barely any internet access and only around half of mobile phones work.

"The court also said the freedom of press is impacted by the shutdown", Vrinda Grover, an advocate representing petitioners, which include journalists and civil society members.

However, the Supreme Court did not order the government to restore Kashmir's internet immediately, and it's not clear if it will go about the process gradually or all at once.

"This sheds light on the rationale behind internet shutdowns, which then can be challenged as being constitutional or proportionate or not", said Nikhil Pahwa, digital rights activist and editor of MediaNama, a Delhi-based publication.

He said the ban forced him to lay off most of his staff and brought his successful venture on the verge of closure. The court instructed the Indian government to review its continued use of Section 144 orders, but did not order them to be withdrawn.

While the government has maintained that the region has been largely calm, it has also said the restrictions have been in place to prevent violence. Any order suspending internet issued under the Suspension Rules, must adhere to the principle of proportionality and must not extend beyond necessary duration, it said.

"SC order is a rebuff to the unconstitutional and arrogant stance of the central government and the JK administration on the restrictions imposed in JK", he said.

She said that on one hand, the government says that after the abrogation of J&K, the state is like any other part of India.

"We urge that the government take measure to allay these fears", said Mir.

In October previous year, European union Parliamentarians were taken to Kashmir which was the first such visit by any worldwide delegation post abrogation of the Article 370.