SRINAGAR: A day after Internet was shutdown in parts of Kashmir and throttled in other parts, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Tuesday condemned the rapid growth in India’s use of this “crude form of censorship” and called on New Delhi to overhaul legislation so as to guarantee the universal right to online news and information.
In a statement, RSF said that the Indian authorities are currently disconnecting the Internet at a rate of ten times a month, each time depriving an average of several hundred thousand people of all online information. “This was the case on 5 July, in the Kashmiri district of Shopian, in India’s far north, where the Internet was disconnected as a ‘preventive measure’ after a gunfight between separatist militants and paramilitaries.” According to the Software Freedom Law Centre, the statement said, this was 61st time that the Internet was cut somewhere in India since the start of 2019 and the 45th time in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
This was two-fold record: India disconnects the Internet more than any other country by far, and the frequency of the cuts continued to soar in the first half of 2019. “Disconnecting the Internet prevents journalists from working because it prevents them from accessing their most basic sources, and it deprives the public of reliable and independently- reported information,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The violations of the freedom to inform that these Internet cuts represent are all the more shocking for being the result of measures taken in a completely arbitrary manner by local or federal authorities.
The union government should amend its legislation as quickly as possible in order to guarantee every citizen’s right to unrestricted and unconditional access to online information.” According to RSF’s analysis, around a third of the Internet cuts last 24 hours but some last much longer. This was the case in July 2017 in Kashmir, where an online blackout imposed in response to protests about a separatist leader’s death continued for almost five months.