UN experts call for lifting of Kashmir social media ban

Two UN special rapporteurs urge authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir to protect right to freedom of expression.

Students protest in Kashmir
Tensions have escalated in Indian-administered Kashmir in recent months [EPA]

United Nations human rights experts have urged India’s government to lift a ban on social media websites and mobile internet services in Indian-administered Kashmir.

In late April, Indian authorities banned 22 social media sites and messaging apps, including Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp, as well 3G and 4G mobile phone data services for one month. The government said at the time that the ban was necessary because social media services were “being misused by antinational and antisocial elements”.

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David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, and Michel Forst, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said in a statement on Thursday that the ban had “disproportionate impact on the fundamental rights of everyone in Kashmir” and had the “character of collective punishment”.

Such restrictions “fail to meet the standards required under international human rights law to limit freedom of expression,” Kaye wrote.

Forst said such blocking “disrupts the free exchange of ideas and the ability of individuals to connect with one another and associate peacefully on matters of shared concern”.

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Others sites and apps covered by the ban include Wechat; QQ; Qzone; Google Plus; Skype; Line; Pinterest; Snapchat; YouTube; Vine and Flickr.

“[The ban] is to control the political space. The government is trying to control things in a military way which is not going to help,” Gull Mohammad Wani, a professor and political analyst, told Al Jazeera after the ban was imposed.

“The government is claiming it has taken this step to calm the situation down. In the absence of social media, rumours can be more dangerous, as we have seen in the past.”

Kashmiris have been uploading videos and photos of alleged abuse for some years, but several recently posted clips, captured in the days surrounding a violence-plagued local election on April 9, have proved to be especially powerful and have helped to intensify anti-India protests.

Indian police and paramilitary officials accuse agitators of using social media to instigate violence.

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The UN special rapporteurs said there were at least 31 reported cases of social media and internet bans since 2012 in Kashmir and called it “a worrying pattern aimed at curbing protests and social unrest in the region.”

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The two called on Indian authorities to guarantee freedom of expression in Kashmir and “to seek a solution for the social and political conflicts of the region through an open, transparent and democratic dialogue.”

Last year,  the Brookings Institution, thge US think-tank, said in a report that India blocked access to the internet in various regions to prevent demonstrations 22 times in the 12 months from July 2015, more often than Syria, Pakistan and Turkey did put together.

Escalating violence

Kashmir witnessed deadly protests after a well known separatist commander, Burhan Wani, was killed last year.

The violence has killed at least 84 civilians and wounded more than 12,000 civilians and security force personnel.

Neighbours India and Pakistan claim divided Kashmir in full, but govern separate parts. Two of the three wars they have fought since independence from Britain in 1947 have been over Kashmir.

Last September, tension escalated as armed men killed 19 Indian soldiers at an army camp in Kashmir, an attack India blamed on Pakistan-based fighters.

India accuses Pakistan of backing separatist fighters in the Himalayan region, a charge Pakistan denies.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies