Update: 01/11/2020: A three judge bench of India’s Supreme Court has ruled in a case challenging the shutdown in Kashmir. The Court has confirmed that the expression of speech, as well as the conduct of trade and business via the internet, is protected as part of the fundamental right to freedom under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. The Court ruled that the government had not established that it had issued the shutdown under legal process, and found that its indefinite term could not be constitutional. At the same time, the judgment leaves the matter of relief for those in Jammu and Kashmir to the future, while clarifying that any government order that impacts the exercise of fundamental rights must be a reasoned, public order — and subject to further judicial review. Further analysis of the ruling by Access Now’s Raman Jit Singh Chima is published here in The Indian Express.
As you read these words, the Indian government is responding to citizen protests in major cities such as Delhi by deliberately cutting access to mobile networks, an inherently anti-democratic tactic that threatens human rights and puts people’s lives in danger. Sadly, this is part of an ongoing trend globally and across Asia, and the people it is hurting the most have the least capacity to defend their rights.
Kashmir: the world’s second-longest shutdown in 2019
It has been 137 days since the Indian government shut down the internet in Jammu and Kashmir. Although this is not the first time India has shut down the internet, this is among the longest shutdowns we have recorded in India and the second-longest globally in 2019.
The current shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir came at a time where the government introduced legislation that fundamentally changed the political structure in Jammu and Kashmir, without the consent of the people living there. Following the announcement of the changes, the government banned public gathering in Jammu and Kashmir and put local leaders under house arrest, deployed thousands of troops, and shut down the internet.
The ongoing network restrictions have enabled the government to hide a series of egregious reported human rights violations in Kashmir. Numerous news agencies and human rights organizations have published articles with evidence to show that during the blackout in Kashmir, government troops have reportedly detained and beaten children, some as young as 9 years old. When authorities implemented the blackout, the government also restricted travel and access to Kashmir. Journalists and the international community have struggled to reach Kashmir, and when they are on the ground, to document and report on the dire situation in the valley. The prolonged shutdown in Kashmir has had another impact on everyday life. As time has passed and Kashmiris remain disconnected, those eager to check on friends and family in Kashmir have seen Kashmiri WhatsApp accounts automatically terminated due to inactivity.
Everyone has the right to access information and free expression, and the ongoing shutdown puts people’s lives in danger, hurts human rights, obstructs journalism, and drains the economy. Join Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition to urge the Indian government to end the blackouts across the country immediately.
Myanmar: Rohingya disconnected at home and abroad
Rohingya refugees are one of the most vulnerable communities in the world. For generations in Myanmar, they have been persecuted by the state and denied citizenship and basic human rights. A recent U.N. investigation has called for the Burmese military to be investigated for genocide against the Rohingya and has found that the military has “routinely and systematically employ[ed] rape, gang rape, and other violent and forced sexual acts against women, girls, boys, men, and transgender people.”
These incidents, along with other human rights violations, have forced the Rohingya to flee their home country and seek refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. However, whether or not they were able to leave the country, Rohingya have been denied internet access in 2019.
Myanmar: disconnected at home
In late June 2019, amidst violence and conflict, the Ministry of Transport and Communication ordered all telecom service providers to shut down the internet in Rakhine and Chin states in Myanmar. In September, the government partially restored access in some areas of Rakhine, while leaving Chine completely disconnected from the world.
Civilians living in these conflict zones are unable to reach their loved ones and unable to access information that could be life saving. Civil society, journalists, and humanitarian organizations cannot use the internet to document or publish information about human rights violations or war crimes, and they struggle to provide humanitarian support that often requires the internet to coordinate efforts.
Bangladesh: disconnected abroad
Those who managed to flee the country and break the shackles of Myanmar’s government have also been denied access to the internet. This time around, it is the Bangladeshi government that is denying access to the internet, making it illegal for refugees to get access to SIM cards, and restricting mobile phone internet access and 3G and 4G services in Rohingya refugee camps and surrounding areas. A secure and open internet enables refugees to locate and gain access to relief services, correspond with loved ones, and find or share essential and often life-saving information.
Rather than protecting their most vulnerable, these governments are taking actions that make them even more vulnerable. Join Access Now and the #KeepItOn community in asking Myanmar and Bangladesh to restore full and free access to the internet for the Rohingya and everyone else suffering under these shutdowns.