Kashmir unrest: Ban on social media, internet services impinges on 'fundamental rights', say UN experts

UN human rights experts have called on India to “immediately” lift its ban on social media and mobile internet services arguing that the move is a “collective punishment” and impinges on the “fundamental rights of everyone in Kashmir”.

“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,” special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye and special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst said in a press statement.

 Kashmir unrest: Ban on social media, internet services impinges on fundamental rights, say UN experts

Representational image. AP

“The internet and telecommunications bans have the character of collective punishment and fail to meet the standards required under international human rights law to limit freedom of expression,” Kaye stressed.

The statement cites information made public through media reports and individuals in Kashmir that the government has blocked access to 22 websites and applications, including WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, and 3G and 4G data services for mobile phones and other devices from 17 April following student demonstrations.

Though the Opposition has complained of the ban, the UN statement says that there has been an estimated 31 reported cases of social media and internet bans since 2012 in Jammu and Kashmir, and that this seems to be a “worrying pattern aimed at curbing protests and social unrest in the region”.

“The internet gag has affected our work. We are not able to communicate with the workers and organise meetings,” the National Conference provincial spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar had said last month.

However, PDP spokesman Mehboob Beg had said that the placing of a ban on the internet is “the last resort”. The government sees it as a necessity to improve conditions in Kashmir,’’ Beg had argued. The police had said that curbing internet access was necessary to counter the spread of rumours and prevent youth from mobilising support to stone-pelting.

During India’s recent human rights record review on 4 May, Sweden had urged India to ensure that "any measure limiting freedom of expression, assembly and association on the internet, is based on clearly defined criteria in accordance with international law, including international human rights law."

According to a report by Freedom House — a US-based internet access watchdog — internet freedom around the world in 2016 declined for the sixth consecutive year and that governments are increasingly going after messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram.

The UN experts, in their statement on Thursday, noted that the UN Human Rights Council had adopted a resolution on internet access: In July 2016, 70 countries adopted a resolution that condemned "measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online".

The recent killing of a young, unarmed Indian army officer, Ummer Fayaz, who was a Kashmiri, has made the army and the administration more worried of whether this is the beginning of a pattern of targetting officers even when off-duty.

As such, the situation in parts of the state remains fragile.

“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,” the experts concluded.

Updated Date: May 11, 2017 17:18:56 IST