India Extends Kashmir High-speed Internet Ban

A recent uptick in "terrorist violence" is behind the move, authorities say. But rights groups have warned that civil liberties are at risk. Authorities in Indian-Administered Kashmir on Monday extended a ban on high-speed mobile internet until May 11. The Home Department, Jammu and Kashmir Government said the move was a response to the recent "spurt in terrorist violence."

"The launch of new terror outfits and the field agencies have well-founded apprehensions of enhanced efforts by Pakistan for recruitment in the terrorists' ranks as well as infiltration attempts, which heavily depend on high speed internet," according to the order issued by Principal Secretary to the government Shaleen Kabra. Restrictions have been put in place to curb the uploading, downloading and circulation of "provocative videos."

The authorities claimed that public order in the region has till now been "maintained due to gradual easing of restrictions on access to the internet while ensuring that rights and interests of the citizens are not affected adversely." Several clashes have taken place between militants and government forces over the last few weeks, with casualties on both sides.

Ban 'curbs civil liberties'

Monday's order was issued amid mounting criticism from human rights organizations that a continued suspension of 4G internet services will not only exacerbate the coronavirus crisis in the region but could also be used by authorities to further curtail civil liberties. Indian-administered Kashmir has been under a security lockdown since August 2019 following the revocation of its semi-autonomous status. The internet shutdow was the longest ever in a democracy. Internet connectivity was restored in March, but a ban on 4G still continues. While talking to DW earlier this month, doctors from the region had said how low-internet connectivity was a hindrance to the coronavirus response. Doctors have complained that downloading guidelines takes too long and that they have had to miss out on medical webinars with the fraternity outside the region because of the buffer time.

Students and teachers have also raised concerns that the connectivity poses a challenge when it comes to attending online classes, adding that it is a violation of their rights. On April 9, the Supreme Court of India had ordered the authorities to respond to a plea that the 2G internet was not sufficient to conduct online classes during the pandemic. The Indian government told the apex court last week that militancy in the region cannot be overlooked while making a decision on restoring 4G internet.