The UK-based human rights organization ARTICLE 19 has called upon the Indian government to lift communication restrictions and to roll back the new media policy 2020 in Jammu and Kashmir.
Any restriction on the right to freedom of expression and information must comply with the law and be pursued by a legitimate aim and be necessary and proportionate, the rights organization said in a statement released today.
"ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned about this ongoing blanket of communication restriction, harassment and intimidation of journalists, and the shrinking of press freedom by the Indian government in Jammu and Kashmir, which is a clear violation of international freedom of expression standards in the country," Faruq Faisel, the South Asia Regional Director of ARTICLE 19, said.
The Indian government has now implemented a New Media Policy 2020 for Jammu and Kashmir, which further increases the Indian government's control over journalists and press in the region, the statement added.
The 50-page policy document mentions one of its objectives, "To thwart misinformation, fake news and be alert to any attempts to use media to incite communal passions, preach violence or to propagate any information prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India."
Apart from the media associations, the policy has drawn criticism from local politicians who have asked the government to roll it back, it added.
Faruq Faisel added that "ARTICLE 19, therefore, demands that the Indian government ensures that the shutdown ends immediately and revoke the New Media Policy 2020, which are not aligned with the commitments India made when ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and is a direct violation of basic human rights."
August 5, 2020 marks a year since the Indian government decided on the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution that provided a measure of autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir.
A year has gone by, with activists, journalists and local and international organizations pleading to the Indian government to restore some normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir, but the appeal has fallen to deaf ears since nothing has changed.
The gravity of the situation deepens with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic when, with the world switching to online platforms for schools, meetings and businesses, these restrictions in communication and internet shutdowns are a violation of free speech, access to information, health care and education, it added.
The statement further said that the government of India is tightening its grip over the region to curb any sort of dissent and the State is using frequent intimidation and harassment as a tool to stifle Kashmiri journalists.
Many journalists in Jammu and Kashmir have been arrested, detained and interrogated for reporting under the lockdown, without any legitimate reason given by the authorities, the statement also said.
The authorities must ensure that any measures introduced in Jammu and Kashmir fully comply with international human rights standards, it added.