- The Indian government placed an internet shutdown on the disputed state of Kashmir in August last year, cutting Kashmiris off from the outside world.
- India’s supreme court ruled the indefinite shutdown unlawful on Friday, and ordered the government to review the restrictions on Kashmir within the next week.
- Significantly the court also ordered the government to make public all orders on internet shutdown, which India frequently deploys.
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After more than 150 days without internet, the Indian state of Kashmir might have just got a reprieve.
India’s supreme court ruled on Friday that the indefinite government-imposed internet shutdown in the state is unconstitutional.
“Freedom of Internet access is a fundamental right,” said Supreme Court justice N. V. Ramana. The court has given the Indian government one week to review the restrictions imposed on Kashmir.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir has long been a disputed territory between India and neighbouring Pakistan. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration implemented the internet shutdown in August last year, justifying it by saying it was to calm unrest in the region.
At 159 days, it is the longest internet blackout ever imposed in a democracy. While the blackout was in force India also stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status.
The court also ordered the Indian government to make public all orders on internet shutdowns, which it frequently deploys. Since 2016 India has experienced 353 internet shutdowns, according to Internet Shutdowns, a site run by India-based advocacy group the Software Law and Freedom Centre.
Human Rights Watch’s South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly told Business Insider this sets an important precedent.
“Indian authorities often shut down internet access, but the Supreme Court has now said that any restrictions brought in to maintain public order should not become a tool to repress legitimate right to speech and expression.
“The Supreme Court has upheld international standards that any restrictions of rights must be proportional and based on material facts,” said Ganguly.
Ganguly pointed out that the court order doesn’t immediately lift the shutdown, and said the government may try to delay it using “security justifications,” but she still expects it will lead to the end of the shutdown.