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India's Supreme Court challenges government Internet shutdown

Kashmiri journalists hold placards during a protest against the ongoing Internet blockade Monday. India's Supreme Court ordered the government Friday to review the measure. Photo by Farooq Khan/EPA-EFE
Kashmiri journalists hold placards during a protest against the ongoing Internet blockade Monday. India's Supreme Court ordered the government Friday to review the measure. Photo by Farooq Khan/EPA-EFE

Jan. 10 (UPI) -- India's Supreme Court challenged the government's ongoing shutdown of the Internet in its administered Kashmir region Friday, giving officials a week to review the restriction.

President Narendra Modi stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its longtime autonomy and placed it under government control in August. Internet and phone services were suspended in the region, with the government citing security and terrorism concerns.

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The court said shutting down Internet access indefinitely was akin to denying free of speech and India must give detailed reasons for such a continued denial of service so those affected can challenge it in court.

The Supreme Court did not decide whether India's government was justified in shutting off Internet service or whether it would be allowed to continue to keep service off.

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"The court has to say whether the fundamental rights and freedoms of people are being curtailed in accordance with law and Constitution or not," Vrinda Grover, an attorney representing one of the plaintiffs in Kashmir, said after the ruling.

"The court held that, insofar as the shutdown of the Internet is concerned, the court said that it is to be recognized that freedom of the Internet is part of freedom of speech and expression," Grover added.

The government has slowly restored access to landlines and mobile phone service.

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Kashmir has long been a focal point of a sometimes violent struggle between Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. India cut off communications in the region before announcing it was stripping Kashmir of its autonomy in anticipation of a backlash, which angered journalists and tech activists as well as Kashmir residents.

"How can preemptively shutting down the Internet be constitutional?" Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Policy director at international tech Internet watchdog Access Now, said in December. "Authorities must restore connections in all affected parts of India and must take action in the future to better protect freedom of expression, access to information, and other rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India."

Internet shutdowns led by governments cost an estimated $8 million globally in 2019, including $1.3 billion in India, according to research firm Top10VPN.

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