Human Rights Watch tells Centre to withdraw Internet curbs in J&K amid COVID-19

Srinagar Municipal Corporation workers carry out fumigation at Lalchowk, the city center, on March 30.

Srinagar Municipal Corporation workers carry out fumigation at Lalchowk, the city center, on March 30.   | Photo Credit: NISSAR AHMAD

Rights group says restrictions can be deadly during pandemic.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW), a non-governmental rights group, has called upon India to withdraw restrictions on Internet in J&K and warned that shutting down or restricting access to the Internet could be deadly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During a health crisis, access to timely and accurate information is crucial. People use the Internet for updates on health measures, movement restrictions, and relevant news to protect themselves and others. Internet shutdowns block people from getting essential information and services,” said Deborah Brown, senior digital rights researcher and advocate of HRW.

“During a global pandemic, when people around the world are isolated and access to information can mean life or death, it’s time to impose a moratorium on Internet shutdowns. Governments should ensure immediate access to the fastest and broadest possible service for all. During this global health crisis, shutdowns directly harm people’s health and lives, and undermine efforts to bring the pandemic under control,” Ms. Brown added.

The HRW named India among four countries, including Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Myanmar, where there are restrictions on access on Internet.

The group pointed out that for many children and others seeking education, Internet was needed to continue learning as schools shutter around the world.

“Internet shutdowns can have a greater impact on women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, people with disabilities, and older people who may rely on the Internet for online support services,” the HRW said.

India, it said, had the most Internet shutdowns, with at least 385 ordered since 2012. In Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian government imposed a complete communications blackout in August 2019, which stopped families from communicating and disrupted the local economy. Phone services were gradually restored, but it was only after the Supreme Court found the Internet shutdown illegal in January 2020 that service was partially restored, and only at 2G speed.

It said since COVID-19 had spread to India, people had reported “not being able to access websites that provide information about the pandemic due to highly restricted speeds that make accessing anything beyond text messages nearly impossible”.

“Countries should prioritize their responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and avoid complicity in human rights abuses, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the HRW said.

Internet has been partially restored in J&K. High-speed service is only available on the fixedlines. Only post-paid mobile connections have low bandwidth speed of 2G. Most pre-paid connections have no Internet service available.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 1:45:36 PM |

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