India’s Supreme Court on Friday, while hearing petitions challenging the restrictions on movement and communication imposed in occupied Kashmir since August 5, said that freedom of the internet is a fundamental right and ordered the administration to review all restrictive orders within a week.
In a rebuke for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, the court termed shutting down the internet “unconstitutional”. “Freedom of speech and expression includes right to the internet within Article 19 of the Constitution. So the restrictions on the internet has to follow the principles of proportionality under Article 19(2),” said the Supreme Court bench, according to Hindustan Times.
The court observed that internet suspension without “any particular duration and indefinitely” is a violation of telecom rules, reported The Wire.
The bench also said that all orders imposing restrictions should be published so that they can be challenged in courts of law.
Restriction on fundamental rights cannot be done by an arbitrary exercise of powers, the bench further said. “Our limited concern is to find a balance regarding the security and liberty of people. We only here to ensure citizens are provided their rights. We will not delve into the political intent behind the orders given,” the bench was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times.
A strict lockdown and communications blackout has been in place in occupied Kashmir since August 5, when the Indian government unilaterally stripped the region of its special status. While phone calls and very limited text messages were allowed months into the clampdown, internet services remain blocked.
Forcing people offline has crippled the economy and made it impossible to pay utility bills, make applications or just send a message to family outside the stricken zone.