Terming the ban on social media networks in Jammu and Kashmir as "collective punishment", two United Nations human rights experts today urged the government to restore the services in the state and "reinstate" freedom of expression.
Mobile Internet services were suspended in Kashmir on April 17, following widespread student protests in the valley against alleged highhandedness of security forces. These were later restored.
On April 26, the Jammu and Kashmir government banned 22 social networking sites and applications including Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter in Kashmir on the ground that these were being allegedly misused by anti-national and anti-social elements to fan trouble.
In a press release on the official website of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), David Kaye and Michel Forst asserted that "the scope of these restrictions has a significantly disproportionate impact on the fundamental rights of everyone in Kashmir, undermining the government's stated aim of preventing dissemination of information that could lead to violence."
The OHCHR is based in Geneva, Switzerland.
"The Internet and telecommunications bans have the character of collective punishment and fail to meet the standards required under international human rights law to limit freedom of expression," UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression Kaye stressed. Kaye's statement was seconded by Michel Forst, a special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
Forst said, "Denying such access disrupts the free exchange of ideas and the ability of individuals to connect with one another and associate peacefully on matters of shared concern."
The experts also maintained that 3G and 4G data services for mobile phones and other devices were suspended.
The experts noted that in 2016 the Human Rights Council, the central human rights body in the UN system, condemned such online disruptions and called upon States to avoid such shutdowns.
"We call on the Indian authorities to guarantee freedom of expression in Jammu and Kashmir and to seek a solution for the social and political conflicts of the region through an open, transparent and democratic dialogue," the experts concluded.
The government has maintained that the ban was aimed at preventing circulation of information that might aggravate violence in the restive state.
The statement from the experts called on New Delhi to guarantee freedom of expression in the state and to "seek a solution for the social and political conflicts of the region through open, transparent and democratic dialogue".