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IBAHRI calls on India to lift internet restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir during Covid-19 pandemic

Wednesday 1 April 2020

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) calls on the Government of India and the Government of Jammu and Kashmir to revoke the internet restrictions imposed in the Jammu and Kashmir union territory, amidst the Coronavirus disease/Covid-19 worldwide pandemic.

IBAHRI Co-Chair, and immediate past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Jur dr hc commented: ‘It is crucial that, now more than ever, internet shutdowns and restrictions are entirely outlawed. The blockage in the Jammu and Kashmir region is denying citizens their right to access accurate information during a global pandemic. Further, doctors who need information on how to respond to Covid-19 are effectively being blocked from data and instructions that can reduce the spread of the disease and loss of lives. These restrictions are placing the people of Kashmir in an increasingly vulnerable position during this global health crisis. There should be no restrictions upon access to the internet during this pandemic; it is a vital resource for individuals to access information to protect themselves and others.’

 

From August 2019 – when the Indian government abrogated Kashmir’s special status granted under the Constitution of India – to March 2020, a complete communications shutdown was imposed on the Kashmir Valley. The government said the move was necessary to maintain peace in the region. This seven-month ban was the longest internet and social media blockade in the history of a democracy; the full ban was temporarily lifted for a period of two weeks. Mobile data speeds are now capped at a 2G level, a speed so slow it renders usage impractical, continuing enforcement of the shutdown. The pre-ban, high-speed 4G internet connection remains unavailable to the Kashmiri people.

As of 25 March 2020, seven people in Jammu and Kashmir have tested positive for Covid-19. The region is now also under physical lockdown as part of a nationwide curfew to contain the spread of the disease. Consequently, this has led to a higher dependence on the internet for healthcare services, work and other important communication. However, due to the slow speed of internet connection, healthcare professionals are unable to access guidelines for intensive care and other important data relating to managing the Coronavirus disease. Furthermore, employees are unable to work from home and students cannot access online classes or academic content as schools and universities close. As a result, millions of people residing in Kashmir face grave risks to health and economic and social welfare.

IBAHRI Director, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, commented: ‘The IBAHRI is greatly concerned by governments using the global pandemic as a veil to compromise fundamental human rights. Whilst proportionate restrictive measures are necessary in this crisis, internet lockdowns are far from proportionate and are instead incredibly detrimental to the public health of citizens. It is imperative that the arbitrary restrictions placed on the Kashmir citizens are not forgotten amidst global government-ordered restrictive measures. The IBAHRI is closely monitoring the use of internet lockdowns globally during this crisis.’

Imposing such internet restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic violates India’s international law obligation to protect the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). India remains in further contravention of the right to health and control of epidemic diseases guaranteed under Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the right to work under Article 23 of the UDHR; and the right to education under Article 26 of the UDHR. A restriction on internet services in light of a pandemic also violates The Siracusa Principles, adopted by the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1984, which state that emergency restrictions during a health crisis should be as nonintrusive as possible to achieve the objective.

Reports of restrictions being lifted further have been refuted by the Department of Information and Public relations of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir.

ENDS

Notes to the Editor

  1. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  2. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    In the ensuing 70 years since its creation, the organisation has evolved from an association comprised exclusively of bar associations and law societies to one that incorporates individual international lawyers and entire law firms. The present membership is comprised of more than 80,000 individual international lawyers from most of the world’s leading law firms and some 190 bar associations and law societies spanning more than 170 countries.

    The IBA has considerable expertise in providing assistance to the global legal community, and through its global membership, it influences the development of international law reform and helps to shape the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington DC, United States, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands.

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