India's Supreme Court terms internet shutdown in occupied Kashmir 'unconstitutional'

Updated 10 Jan 2020

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While limited text messages were allowed earlier this month, internet services remain blocked since August. — AP/File
While limited text messages were allowed earlier this month, internet services remain blocked since August. — AP/File

India's Supreme Court on Friday, while hearing petitions challenging the restrictions on movement and communication imposed in occupied Kashmir since August 5, said that freedom of internet is a fundamental right and ordered the administration to review all restrictive orders within a week.

In a rebuke for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, the court termed shutting down the internet "unconstitutional". “Freedom of speech and expression includes right to internet within Article 19 of the Constitution. So the restrictions on internet has to follow the principles of proportionality under Article 19(2),” said the Supreme Court bench, according to Hindustan Times.

"Freedom of Internet access is a fundamental right," Supreme Court Justice N V Ramana said, delivering the ruling.

The court observed that internet suspension without “any particular duration and indefinitely” is a violation of telecom rules, reported The Wire.

The bench also said that all orders imposing restrictions should be published so that they can be challenged in courts of law.

Restriction on fundamental rights cannot be done by an arbitrary exercise of powers, the bench further said. “Our limited concern is to find a balance regarding security and liberty of people. We only here to ensure citizens are provided their rights. We will not delve into the political intent behind the orders given,” the bench was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times.

Read: Internet trek: Kashmiris travel miles to get online

A strict lockdown and communications blackout has been in place in occupied Kashmir since August 5, when the Indian government unilaterally stripped the region of its special status. While phone calls and very limited text messages have been allowed — the latter only earlier this month — internet services remain blocked.

Forcing people offline has crippled the economy and made it impossible to pay utility bills, make applications or just send a message to family outside the stricken zone.

On October 31, federal authorities formally revoked the restive area’s constitutional autonomy and split it into two federal territories. “Everything changes on Thursday [...] we are reduced to a municipality,” said a retired Kashmiri judge, Hasnain Masoodi, a member of India’s parliament.

“The entire exercise is unconstitutional. The mode and methodology have been undemocratic. People were humiliated and never consulted.”