GENEVA (11 May 2017) – India must immediately end its ban on social media networks and on mobile internet services in the State of Jammu and Kashmir and guarantee freedom of expression for citizens, say two United Nations human rights experts.
The ban was imposed on 17 April following widespread student demonstrations. According to information made public through media reports and individuals in Kashmir, the Government blocked access to 22 websites and applications, including WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, and 3G and 4G data services for mobile phones and other devices were suspended.
“The scope of these restrictions has a significantly disproportionate impact on the fundamental rights of everyone in Kashmir, undermining the Government’s stated aim of preventing dissemination of information that could lead to violence,” the experts said.
“The internet and telecommunications bans have the character of collective punishment,” stressed the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, “and fail to meet the standards required under international human rights law to limit freedom of expression.”
The experts noted that in 2016 the Human Rights Council, the central human rights body in the UN system, condemned such online disruptions and called upon States to avoid such shutdowns.
“Denying such access disrupts the free exchange of ideas and the ability of individuals to connect with one another and associate peacefully on matters of shared concern,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst.
The Special Rapporteurs said that there had already been an estimated 31 reported cases of social media and internet bans since 2012 in Jammu and Kashmir, noting what seems to be a worrying pattern aimed at curbing protests and social unrest in the region.
“We call on the Indian authorities to guarantee freedom of expression in Jammu and Kashmir and to seek a solution for the social and political conflicts of the region through an open, transparent and democratic dialogue,” the experts concluded.
Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, country page: India