The state of Jammu and Kashmir became a news and information black hole in the space of a single morning yesterday. Mobile Internet service was cut first. Then all online and phone services were disconnected. Even cable TV services are now inaccessible.
The Kashmir Valley is used to Internet cuts, as RSF recently documented. But this total blackout was prompted by the announcement of a law scrapping this troubled northern territory’s special status. It was adopted this morning by the Lok Sabha, the Indian federal parliament’s lower house.
The law abolishes article 370 of India’s 1947 constitution, which granted a degree of autonomy to this territory with a large Muslim population that has been dogged by conflict and is now one the world’s most militarized regions. In practice, the Kashmiri population will now be ruled directly from New Delhi.
“Cutting all means of communication in Jammu and Kashmir prevents its journalists from doing their job and, above all, prevents its citizens from having access to independent news and information, which is absolutely decisive at such a crucial moment,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“We call on India’s minister of home affairs, Amit Shah, to restore communications in the valley at once. The credibility of Indian democracy and respect for the rule of law are at stake.”
The communications blackout in Kashmir has been accompanied by a sudden deployment of more than 45,000 paramilitaries. As tension mounted on the afternoon of 4 August, a reporter based in the state’s capital, Srinagar, told RSF: “It’s a war-like situation here. The government may terminate mobile and Internet services anytime.” The reporter can no longer be reached.
India is ranked 140th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.