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.


Thousands in Paris protest death of black man in police custody

Updated 8 min 55 sec ago

Thousands in Paris protest death of black man in police custody

  • Paris police chief Didier Lallement had refused permission for the rally to go ahead outside a Paris court for protesters calling for justice for Adama Traore
  • Many of the protesters on Tuesday drew inspiration from the protest movement in the United States over the police killing last week of George Floyd

PARIS: Thousands of people on Tuesday defied a ban to protest in Paris over the death of a young black man in French police custody in 2016, using slogans that echoed the protest movement raging in the US.
Paris police chief Didier Lallement had refused permission for the rally to go ahead outside a Paris court for protesters calling for justice for Adama Traore, whose death has long been a subject of controversy in France.
Many of the protesters on Tuesday drew inspiration from the protest movement in the United States over the police killing last week of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, brandishing viral slogans in English such as “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe.”
“Today we are not just talking about the fight of the Traore family. It is the fight for everyone. When we fight for George Floyd, we fight for Adama Traore,” elder sister Assa Traore told the protest.
“What is happening in the United States is an echo of what is happening in France,” she added.
The Traore case has long been a rallying cause against police brutality in France, which young, black men say is often targeted at them.
Following a dispute over an identity check, Traore, 24, was apprehended in a house where he hid after leading police on a 15-minute chase in 2016.
He lost consciousness in their vehicle and died at a nearby police station. He was still handcuffed when paramedics arrived.
One of the three arresting officers told investigators that Traore had been pinned down with their combined bodyweight after his arrest.
Last Friday, French medical experts exonerated the three police officers, dismissing a medical report commissioned by the young man’s family that said he had died of asphyxiation.
It was the third official report to clear the officers.
Adding to the controversy, a new probe commissioned by the Traore family said Tuesday that his death was caused by the arrest technique used by the officers, a source said.
Lallement, meanwhile, wrote a letter to police officers defending their conduct, sympathizing with the “pain” officers must feel “faced with accusations of violence and racism, repeated endlessly by social networks and certain activist groups.”
The Paris police force “is not violent, nor racist: it acts within the framework of the right to liberty for all,” he insisted in an email to the city’s 27,500 law enforcers.
Star French actress Camelia Jordana, who is of Algerian origin, was rebuked last month by the French interior minister for saying people “get massacred” by the police in the Paris suburbs due to the color of their skin.
Several French officers have also been investigated for brutality against members of the public at long-running “yellow vest” anti-government rallies, and more recent anti-pension reform strikes.
Scores of protesters were maimed by rubber bullets or stun grenades, some losing an eye or a hand.
On January 3 this year, a 42-year-old man suffocated to death after being pinned face down to the ground during an arrest in Paris.
Last week, a 14-year-old was badly injured in one eye during a police operation in Bondy, one of Paris’s northern suburbs, sparking protests.
Lallement insisted Tuesday that any officer found to have acted wrongly would be appropriately punished.
“But I will not accept that individual actions throw into question the republican bulwark that we are against delinquency and those who dream of chaos and anarchy,” he wrote.