Supreme Court orders review of all curbs in Kashmir

NEW DELHI: India’s Supreme Court on Friday ordered a review of all restrictions including suspension of Internet services in Kashmir as it excoriated the government, saying such curbs were unwarranted and an abuse of power.
New Delhi stripped the region of its semi-autonomous status on August 5 and imposed restrictions on communications as well as the movement and gathering of people to prevent any backlash.
Many curbs including roadblocks and telephone service cuts have since been eased, but Internet remains suspended and hundreds of politicians remain in detention in the Kashmir valley, which has a population of 7 million.
A three-judge bench led by Justice B V Ramana ordered the Kashmir administration to review all restrictive orders within one week, said lawyer Vrinda Grover, who moved a petition challenging the curbs on behalf of journalist Anuradha Bhasin.
She said the judges held that the Internet shutdown impacted the freedom of press which is part of freedom of speech and expression.
“Suspension of free movement, Internet and basic freedoms cannot be an arbitrary exercise of power,” the court said, according to broadcaster NDTV, and it further asserted that “mere expression of dissent or disagreement against a government decision cannot be a reason for Internet suspension.”
The court also held that Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code — which prohibits the gathering of people to avoid protests — cannot be used indefinitely by authorities to oppress people’s democratic rights.
Internet curbs have not only impinged on the freedom of the press but also disrupted business and essential services such as healthcare and education resulting in hardships for the local people. The Internet shutdown in Kashmir has crossed 150 days, reportedly the longest ever in a democracy.
Senior government lawyer Tushar Mehta said the restrictions were preventive steps necessary to contain any outbreak of violence.
Government agencies said they had prevented loss of life despite efforts by militants and radical groups using social media to spread inflammatory material and fake videos to destabilise the situation. — dpa