AN INTERNET BLACKOUT MEANS NO-ONE IN INDIAN-CONTROLLED KASHMIR CAN
One of the world’s most sensitive regions is in the midst of a crisis and could be on the verge of conflict, but the world may not find out what’s happening there until it’s too late.
An almost complete communications blackout has been imposed in Indian-controlled Kashmir, after the government in Delhi moved to scrap the region’s special status, sparking an angry response from Pakistan. The two neighbors have fought numerous times over Kashmir, and the region has been the focus of periodic conflict for almost 70 years.
In the run-up to the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir broad autonomy in setting its own law, except in a limited set of policy areas such as defence and foreign affairs, India sent tens of thousands of additional troops into the state and cut off all internet and phone services.
Broadband, mobile internet, text messaging and phone service have all been affected, with residents reduced to digging out old radio sets to tune into the news. Politicians have reportedly been detained, journalists restricted in their reporting and human rights groups have warned of potential abuses due to the lack of international oversight enabled by the communications blackout.
“A large-scale communication disruption at such a crucial time for Kashmir is an egregious violation of citizens’ rights to information from a free press,” Aliya Iftikhar, a senior researcher with the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement. “We call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his administration to guarantee that all communication blocks in Kashmir are lifted and that journalists are able to report freely. Communication blocks have no place in a democracy.”
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the communications blackout in Jammu and Kashmir. The Press Information Bureau for Jammu and Kashmir also did not respond.
On Thursday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the law change would bring stability and end “separatism, terrorism, dynastic politics and corruption” in Jammu and Kashmir, even as the United Nations warned against taking steps that “could affect the status” of the disputed region.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement that he was “concerned over reports of restrictions on the Indian-side of Kashmir, which could exacerbate the human rights situation in the region.”