India told to review Kashmir’s ‘arbitrary’ internet blackout

The territory has been without the internet since August. (AFP)
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Updated 11 January 2020

India told to review Kashmir’s ‘arbitrary’ internet blackout

  • Supreme Court takes govt to task for frequent use of restrictive orders under Section 144

NEW DELHI: India is to review a months-long internet blackout in its portion of Kashmir following an order from the country’s Supreme Court.

The territory has been without the internet since August, when New Delhi revoked its semi-autonomous status and divided the state into two centrally governed union territories.

A three-judge Supreme Court bench said on Friday that the temporary suspension of internet and curtailment of basic freedoms of citizens should not be arbitrary and was open to judicial review.

It ruled that the freedom to use the internet was a “fundamental right” and took the government to task for the frequent use of “restrictive orders under Section 144 (of the Code of Criminal Procedure),” which banned the gathering of more than four people at a place. The judges said it should not be used at whim.

The intervention brought relief to those living and working in Kashmir.

“I am a law student and after finishing my degree I want to pursue my master’s in law at some university outside,” Srinagar-based student Deeba Ashraf told Arab News. 

“For five months, I was hamstrung. I could not look for a job, nor explore any academic options because of the internet shutdown. My sister who has an online business lost all her money due to the ban,” she said, as trade was down and health care was also suffering due to the blackout. She welcomed the court’s decision, but did not trust the government to abide by it. 

BACKGROUND

The BJP has yet to comment on the ruling, but Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said that ‘what the BJP government did in Kashmir has been welcomed all over the world. Things are already normal.’

Srinagar-based video journalist Manzoor-ul-Haq said that sending stories had been difficult without the internet. “We were feeling as if we were living in the stone age,” he told Arab News. “I hope the government (will) honestly try to restore internet services.”

Another journalist, Pulwama-based Javid Sofi, said some reporters had lost their jobs since the blackout. 

Political activist Tehseen Poonawala, who is one of the main petitioners challenging the internet blackout said the court’s ruling was a big step forward. 

“It is going to open up more transparency, and citizens can challenge the government when it arbitrarily puts out an internet ban,” he told Arab News. “At a time when people across India are fighting for their fundamental and constitutional rights, the reiteration of the constitutional values by the apex court is a big relief.”

He added that the government would find excuses to restrict the internet in Kashmir again, but that the only option for activists was to “fight legally and politically.”

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has yet to comment on the ruling, but Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said that “what the BJP government did in Kashmir has been welcomed all over the world. Things are already normal.”

But the opposition Congress party called the court ruling “a rebuff” for the government.

“The Supreme Court’s order is a rebuff to the unconstitutional and arrogant stance of the central government and the J&K administration,” senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram tweeted.

Kashmir is India’s only Muslim-majority state and scrapping its special status was New Delhi’s bid to integrate it fully with India and to rein in militancy.


France backs calls for EU sanctions on Turkey

Updated 12 min 57 sec ago

France backs calls for EU sanctions on Turkey

  • Cypriot officials insist the EU shouldn’t set a ‘double standard’ by imposing sanctions against Belarus for alleged voter fraud while avoiding doing so when Turkey carries on its exploration at the expense of EU members

JEDDAH: France on Friday backed Cyprus’ calls for the EU to consider imposing tougher sanctions on Turkey if the Turkish government won’t suspend its search for energy reserves in eastern Mediterranean waters where Cyprus and Greece claim exclusive economic rights.

French Minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune said sanctions should be among the options the 27-member bloc considers employing if Turkey continues to “endanger the security and sovereignty of a member state.”

“But we consider that the union should also be ready to use all the instruments at its disposal, among them one of sanctions, if the situation didn’t evolve positively,” Beaune said after talks with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides in Nicosia.

A European Parliament resolution has called for sanctions against Turkey unless it showed “sincere cooperation and concrete progress” in defusing tensions with Greece and Cyprus.

Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Turkey and now analyst at Carnegie Europe, said the resolution reflected the views of a democratically elected parliament from across the bloc. “This is not ‘country X against country Y,’ it is the aggregated view of the European Parliament,” he told Arab News.

EU leaders are set to hold a summit in a few days to discuss how to respond to Turkey prospecting in areas of the sea that Greece and Cyprus insist are only theirs to explore.

Turkey triggered a naval stand-off with NATO ally Greece after dispatching a warship-escorted research vessel in a part of the eastern Mediterranean that Greece says is over its continental shelf. Greece deployed its own warship and naval patrols in response.

Greek and Turkish military officers are also holding talks at NATO headquarters to work out ways of ensuring that any standoff at sea doesn’t descend into open conflict.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said Turkey’s withdrawal of its survey ship and warship escorts was a positive step, but that Greece needs to make sure Ankara is sincere.

He said a list of sanctions will be put before EU leaders at next week’s summit and whether they’ll be implemented will depend on Turkey’s actions. “I’m hoping that it won’t become necessary to reach that point,” Dendias said.

Cypriot officials insist the EU shouldn’t set a “double standard” by imposing sanctions against Belarus for alleged voter fraud and police brutality while avoiding doing so when Turkey carries on its exploration at the expense of EU members.

Meanwhile, the EU is set to announce sanctions on Monday against three companies from Turkey, Jordan and Kazakhstan which are accused of violating a UN arms embargo on Libya, diplomats told AFP.