The crackdown over the past week against several newspapers in India’s northern state of Jammu and Kashmir is a worrying development that has blocked free communication in the region. Since earlier this month, authorities also limited and blocked mobile phone access, social media and telephonic landline services, as well as access to cable television networks. CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance condemns this media and communication clampdown and denounces the excessive lethal force used on protestors by law enforcement agencies.
Since July 16, authorities have been on the offensive against several newspapers - among them the Kashmir Observer, the Kashmir Reader, the Rising Kashmir, the Daily Kashmir Images and the Greater Kashmir. Security forces raided the premises of publications, confiscated printed copies, detained staff and stopped circulation of the print media.
Government authorities have sought to justify curtailment of communication on the grounds of protecting citizens and public property following unrest in the region arising out of the killing by Indian security forces of separatist armed militant, Burhan Wani on 8 July. At least 40 people have been killed and over 1500 injured in widespread daily protests. As protestors defied a curfew and bans on public gatherings, security forces used lethal and disproportionate force to dispel protests including live ammunition, teargas and steel pellet shotguns known to severely damage the eyesight of victims.
“As the world’s largest and possibly proudest democracy, India should be facilitating the free flow of information, not shutting down newspapers or blocking access to social media,” said Mandeep Tiwana
Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS. “The use of lethal force on protestors resulting in the loss of so many lives is extremely worrying and should be properly investigated. India has a constitutional responsibility to facilitate the freedom of assembly.”
The United Nations Human Rights Council recently adopted a significant resolution on the “promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet”. Among other assurances, the resolution is a political commitment by states to abstain from intentionally disrupting access to the internet. India had voted for amendments to weaken the resolution. However, the passing of the resolution means states, including India, now have a human rights obligation to ensure that it lives up to this international commitment to guarantee that rights that are protected offline must also be protected online.
CIVICUS calls on the government of India to ensure an end to the harassment of media outlets, reopen satellite television, lift the ban on social media and end the use of lethal violence against protestors. CIVICUS urges India to rather favour other means of achieving peace including a negotiated political settlement to avoid any further loss of lives.