The Kashmir population has been denied the free and unrestricted flow of information since August 5, 2019 when Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was revoked, removing the autonomy of Kashmir, imposing a communications shutdown. Recently, the implications of a communications shutdown have worsened with civilians panicking due to a lack of information on the COVID-19 pandemic and increased restrictions imposed on movement.
Moazum Bhat, the vice-president of Kashmir Press Club questioned how will people access reliable information when doctors, journalists and health service providers cannot access information about the pandemic. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling on January 10 calling the ban “impermissible”, the Indian government continues to restrict high speed 3G and 4G internet services. The 2G internet services restored in the region on January 14 limits communication to a simple text message.
Since Kashmir reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 18, further communication restrictions have been put in place, banning people from visiting specific areas of Kashmir. As of 19 March, the Indian Government has reported 166 confirmed cases of coronavirus of which, four cases are from Kashmir.
The communication restriction continue to prevent people from exercising the right to health. The right to health has been clearly reflected in international agreements which include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The Kashmir diaspora penned an open letter to the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom on March 20, requesting the office facilitate the restoration of high-speed internet in Kashmir.
The IJU “reiterates its demand that Kashmir people should have access to internet with 4G speed to cope with COVID-19 pandemic.”
The IFJ said: “The Unnecessary restriction on the dissemination of information will only increase panic during the pandemic. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure people receive accurate and timely information about COVID-19. The IFJ urges the Indian government to provide unrestricted and free flow of information about COVID-19 in Kashmir by lifting the communications ban”.