Srinagar: Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society has released a detailed report calling the communications blackout after the scrapping of the erstwhile state’s special status last year “collective punishment” and urging the international community to question India over the “digital apartheid” it enacts for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Titled “Kashmir’s Internet Siege”, the 125-page long report released by the prominent civil rights group on Tuesday is first of its kind.
While providing an overview of the “harms, costs and consequences” of the digital siege in Jammu and Kashmir” from August 2019 to the publication of this report in August this year, the report examines the shutdown and disruption of network connectivity through a “broad-based and multi-dimensional human rights framework that sees internet access as vital to life in the contemporary world.”
India, the report says, leads the world in ordering internet shutdowns and Jammu & Kashmir accounts for more than two-thirds of the shutdowns the country ordered.
While arguing that digital sieges are a technique of political repression in Kashmir and a severe impediment to the enjoyment of civil, political and socio-economic rights, the report “contextualises the digital siege in light of long-standing, widespread and systematic patterns of rights violations in Kashmir.”
Based on fieldwork, government documents, court files and media reports, the report maps the severe impacts of the digital siege on livelihood, health, education, access to justice, social participation, press freedom and freedom of speech and expression.
“Press freedoms and the right to freedom of speech, expression and 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,” the report says.
The report features experiences of five individuals the rights group spoke to, giving a glimpse into “ordinary lives lived and opportunities lost amidst these crippling restrictions.”
It also includes a detailed 300-day timeline of the digital siege across different place within Jammu & Kashmir.
While highlighting that the promise of lasting peace, freedom and justice for the people of Jammu & Kashmir is inextricably tied to digital and human rights in the region, the report argues that “the multi-faceted and targeted denial of digital rights is a systemic form of discrimination, digital repression and collective punishment of the region’s residents, particularly in light of India’s long history of political repression and atrocities.”
“The siege 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, it enacts a ‘digital apartheid’, a form of systemic and pervasive discriminatory treatment and collective punishment,” the report says.
This report describes itself as “a missive addressed to the human rights and digital rights community about the breadth and forms of this collective punishment” and also “a testament to the resilience and resourcefulness of the people of Jammu & Kashmir, who refuse to be silenced.”
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