Srinagar: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on the government of India to immediately restore high-speed (4G) internet in the Kashmir Valley saying the existing restrictions on communications are potentially “criminal” during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Imagine a population under a coronavirus lockdown that cannot communicate by Internet,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “This is the cruel reality to which the citizens of the Kashmir Valley, including its journalists, are currently being subjected.”
“Criminal irresponsibility at a time when people under lockdown all over the world are using the Internet to work, communicate and get information, the 8 million Kashmiris continue to be cut off from the absolutely vital information that is needed to prevent the spread of the pandemic. As this demonstrates potentially criminal irresponsibility, New Delhi must immediately restore high speed Internet in the Kashmir Valley,” Bastard said.
Several Kashmir-based journalists confirmed the dangers to RSF. Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, the executive editor of the Kashmir Times, Jammu and Kashmir’s oldest English-language daily, said: “These communication blockades force people, especially journalists, to work in their offices or at the government-run media facilitation centre, putting themselves at high risk from the pandemic.”
Majid Hyderi, a freelance journalist said depriving Kashmiris of high-speed Internet was “like siding with the coronavirus.”
She added: “Not only is working from home not an option but people in Kashmir cannot even watch WHO video clips on coronavirus awareness.”
Journalists said their ability to fulfil their crucial role of spreading public health information was badly compromised. “Communication in times of any crisis is absolutely fundamental,” freelancer Arif Shafi Wani told RSF.
Calling the situation ”a major violation of human rights,” author and political commentator Gowhar Geelani said: “When the entire world is under a lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic and health professionals recommend watching awareness videos and films at home, the J&K government has announced yet another order restricting the Internet in Kashmir.