It’s ‘digital apartheid’, a form of ‘collective punishment’: JKCCS report on Internet ban in JK

Srinagar: In a report produced on August 25, the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a distinctive human rights organization based in JK, have termed the communication blockade in the erstwhile state “digital apartheid” and a form of “collective punishment” unleashed by the government of India on people.

The report has also said that Internet seizure has restricted people of the region from participating in ‘highly networked and digitalized world’.

“For the already vulnerable people of JK, who live amidst a state of perpetual war and permanent emergency, this siege is enforced by various modes of network disruption and state control over access to the Internet. These disruptions disproportionately target essential civilian supplies and services, adversely impact human rights and preemptively silence all forms of online speech,” the report said.

“In this report, we contextualise the digital siege in light of long-standing, widespread and systematic patterns of rights violations in Kashmir. Digital sieges are a technique of political repression in Kashmir, and a severe impediment to the enjoyment of internationally and constitutionally guaranteed civil, political and socio-economic rights,’ the statement, available on the JKCCS website, said.

This report states that it has moved beyond the most often cited direct impact of network disruptions on political and economic freedoms of speech and association, business and trade. They have included studies of the effect on the rights to health, education, and livelihood and examined the effects of network disruptions on access to justice and individual and collective security.

The JKCCS, according to the statement, has prepared the report based on fieldwork assessment, government documents, court files and media reports.

This 125-page long report titled “Kashmir’s Internet Siege, an ongoing assault on digital rights,” is categorised in six chapters that look at the disruptions through the lens of international human right norms.

Stating about livelihood consequences of the shutdown of August 2019, the losses suffered during the first five months alone were estimated at Rs 178.78 billion, with more than 500,000 people lost their jobs.

The health sector was equally affected as indices showed a marked decline, with numbers of visits in some hospitals in August 2019 dropping by as much as 38%.

“Education suffered a major setback, and the first anniversary of the Internet shutdown in August 2020 saw students in Kashmir’s schools and institutes of higher education mark a full year without attending school, college or university.

Justice saw systemic delays further compounded by ineffective online hearings. More than 6000 detentions and over 600 ‘administrative’ detentions took place around August 5th 2019. Of habeas corpus petitions filed for the release of illegal detainees during the period, 99% remain pending.

Press freedoms and the right to freedom of speech, expression as well as Social participation suffered from the direct impact and chilling effects of online surveillance, profiling and criminal sanctions, with police complaints registered against working journalists and over 200 social media and VPN users,” the report mentioned.

The report added that an expansive timeline in the report presents a temporal visualisation of the fluidity and complexity of the digital siege as it unfolded through the first 300 days, across different regional geographies within Jammu and Kashmir.

“It is also a testament to the resilience and resourcefulness of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, who refuse to be silenced,” the JKCCS spokesperson said, adding “the report is also addressed to the international community.”

The spokesman further said that while GoI may have succeeded in “gagging” the voices of the people of Jammu and Kashmir with its longstanding communication blockade, this should not prevent the international community from speaking and calling out the government of India for “suppressing the fundamental rights of people.”

“Collecting data was obviously not easy. Although we did use a data that was available with JKCCS and a lot of news stories that were coming out from Kashmir were of great help. But when it came to connecting to people there it was mostly done via phone calls and was made more difficult due to COVID restrictions.

My personal experience with working on this report was also not easy because again I too was on 2G while the other members were out of J&K, so the amount of work or the speed of work was low comparatively on my side,” said Mehroosh Shah, one of the researches who worked on this report.

However, most of the restrictions were removed later in a phased manner but high-speed mobile Internet is still blocked except for two districts— Ganderbal and Udhampur.

The two districts were allowed 4G services earlier this month on a trial basis.


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