On August 5, 2019, the Indian government unilaterally revoked Article 370 of the constitution of India and imposed a total communications lockdown. As a result, internet, mobile phones and fixed telephone lines were suspended. Five months into the communications shutdown in Kashmir, India’s Supreme Court in January declared internet as a fundamental right and ordered the government to review all restrictions in Indian-administered Kashmir within a week, saying the indefinite suspension of people’s rights amounted to an abuse of power. Following the court’s order, although some communications have been gradually restored, the block on high speed mobile 4G internet in Kashmir has continued until now, with the issuance of the notice on July 29 to extend the ban till August 19 in ‘the interest of sovereignty of India’.
The communications and internet shutdown has severely affected the work of journalists and media. The shutdown of media-houses, declining advertising revenues, job losses, pay cuts, lack of professional safety, self-censorship and the general curtailing of freedom of expression are some of the impacts of the communications shutdown. Journalists who have managed to hold on to their job face difficulties when collecting information, sourcing and editing photos and videos online, and conducting online research and fact checks.
On top of the restrictive internet shutdown, Kashmir journalists continue to be targeted by authorities. Attacks, harassment, detentions and obstructions to reporting are commonplace in Kashmir following the revocation of Article 370. Theintroduction of the new 2020 ‘Media Policy’ by the Jammu and Kashmir administration has further affected independent journalism in Kashmir.
The Indian Journalists Union’s Secretary General Sabina Inderjit said: “We demand for restoration of 4G internet services in J&K and urge the authorities to review its media policy, which is detrimental to free flow of information. The IJU is keenly awaiting the Supreme Court’s scheduled hearing on August 7 on the issue.”
The SAMSN members said: “We collectively condemn the world longest internet shutdown and urge the J&K administration to immediately restore 4G, end impunity to the crime against journalists and ensure free and unrestrained flow of information in the valley.”
The IFJ said:“The IFJ has been advocating against the internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir since the communication shutdown was introduced last year. We reiterate our call to authorities to restore 4G internet, investigate all the cases against journalists and media houses and to ensure the end of impunity on any crime against journalists in Kashmir.”