SHAFAQNA- India’s Supreme Court on Friday criticised the months-long shutdown in Kashmir, saying that the indefinite government-imposed internet shutdown in the state is unconstitutional.
According to Independent, the court said that an indefinite suspension of internet access was an unconstitutional abuse of power. “Freedom of Internet access is a fundamental right,” said Supreme Court justice N. V. Ramana. Internet suspensions can be imposed only for “temporary duration” and an indefinite suspension violated India’s telecom’s rules, the court said in an order published on its website.
Supreme Court justice N V Ramana gave Narendra Modi’s administration one week to review all the restrictions it has imposed on the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. The court also ordered the Indian government to make public all orders on internet shutdowns, which it frequently deploys. Authorities must consider immediately allowing the functioning of essential internet services such as for hospitals and limited e-banking in regions where internet cannot be restored right away, the court added, Reuters reported. At 159 days, it is the longest internet blackout ever imposed in a democracy. While the blackout was in force India also stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status.
In August, a few months after an emphatic victory in national elections for Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Indian government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its long held semi-autonomous status. The region, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan, Meanwhile, Delhi sent troops into Kashmir, imposed a curfew and cut cellphone, landline and Internet access in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, while largely sparing Hindu-majority Jammu. While phone services were eventually restored two months later, the Internet has remained suspended, Time told.
Human Rights Watch’s South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly told Business Insider this sets an important precedent. “Indian authorities often shut down internet access, but the Supreme Court has now said that any restrictions brought in to maintain public order should not become a tool to repress legitimate right to speech and expression. “The Supreme Court has upheld international standards that any restrictions of rights must be proportional and based on material facts,” said Ganguly. Ganguly pointed out that the court order doesn’t immediately lift the shutdown, and said the government may try to delay it using “security justifications,” but she still expects it will lead to the end of the shutdown.