COMMUNICATIONS BLOCKADE IS A FORM OF COLLECTIVE PUNISHMENT
The ongoing internet siege enacts a ‘digital apartheid’, a form of systemic and pervasive discriminatory treatment and collective punishment. It is a violation of international human rights law as well as the laws of armed conflict. The siege is a means of political repression that serves as a deliberate means of severing social, economic and political connections between Kashmiris, while also isolating them from the world.
For the already vulnerable people of Jammu & Kashmir, 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.
Recent Indian Supreme Court judgments (in the cases of Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India and Foundation for Media Professionals v. Union Territory of J&K) did not end the digital siege of Kashmir. Instead, they have inaugurated a new legalised regime of mass surveillance, filtering, and internet-speed throttling through expansive executive orders. These orders are issued every two weeks, and from January 2020 until now a total of 17 such extension orders have been issued.
Alongside routine extensions of internet restrictions, frequent complete suspensions of mobile internet connectivity through emergency police orders have also continued unabated. Since January 2020, when partial 2G internet connectivity was first restored, 70 such temporary suspension orders have been issued.
The six chapters in this report look at the disruptions through the lens of international human rights norms.
Livelihood consequences of the shutdown of August 2019 were severe, and losses suffered during the first five months alone were estimated at Rs 178.78 billion, with more than 500,000 people have lost their jobs.
Health 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.
Finally, an expansive Timeline 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 & Kashmir.
This report is a missive addressed to the human rights and digital rights community about the breadth and forms of this collective punishment. It is also a testament to the resilience and resourcefulness of the people of Jammu & Kashmir, who refuse to be silenced.
The report is also addressed to the international community. While the government of India 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.