Internet to be partially restored in Kashmir but social media ban stays

Under the new directives internet service provides will provide broadband internet facilities to all institutions dealing with essential services and government offices as well as hotel and travel establishments to facilitate tourism. — AFP  File

Tuesday's order directed the internet service providers (ISPs) in the Kashmir Valley to provide limited broadband facility to essential services, such as hospitals, banks and government offices, and hotels and tour and travel establishments.

The court asked the state to make public all the restrictive orders issued in Jammu and Kashmir over the past five months so they can be challenged legally, the bench said. Meanwhile, the remaining districts - Poonch, Rajouri, Ramban, Kishtwar and Doda - will remain without mobile internet.

Taking into account the ground situation and after considering the available alternative measures, in light of the reports of the authorized officers, Principal Secretary, Home Department, in exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (2) of section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and the sub-rule (1) of rule 2 of the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Sendees (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017 hereby direct the existing access/ communication facilities indicated in the para 4 above shall continue and the Divisional Administration Kashmir shall additionally establish 400 internet kiosks in Kashmir division.

"2G mobile connectivity on post-paid mobiles for accessing white-listed sites, including for e-banking, shall be allowed, to begin with, in the districts of Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Udhampur and Reading", the order states.

A government notice explicitly stated that access to social media sites or "peer-to-peer" messaging services like WhatsApp would not be restored.

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"Sustained efforts are being made by terrorists to infiltrate from across the border, reactivate their cadre and scale up anti-national activities not only in the Kashmir division but also in some areas of the Jammu division by using Voice on Internet Protocol and encrypted mobile communications, and through various social media applications to coordinate and plan terrorist activities", he said.

Internet services have been suspended in the region since 5 August, when India revoked its semi-autonomous status and split it into two federally-administered territories.

Freedom of speech and expression through the internet is an "integral part of Article 19 (1)(A) of the constitution", and any "expression of dissent or disagreement against a government decision can not be reason for Internet suspension", added the three-judge bench led by Justice NV Ramanna. The authorities have continued to describe the restrictions as a pre-emptive measure to prevent misuse of data services by anti-national elements which has the potential to cause large-scale violence and disturb public order.

The order, issued by Principal Secretary, Home, Shaleen Kabra late on Tuesday, however, did not restore mobile internet services for the Kashmir division. There will be a total ban on social media, though. These shall supersede all the orders earlier issued on the subject.

"The aforesaid directions shall be effective from January 15, 2020, and remain in force for a period of seven days, unless modified earlier".

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