Return of internet services in Jammu and Kashmir lessens risks of Covid-19, says rights group


Amnesty International India calls on the Government of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir to restore full access to internet services in the region of Jammu and Kashmir and ensure that people have full access to health and safety related information in the midst of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“There is a growing anxiety around the pandemic and unwarranted restrictions on content and dissemination of information only stands to add to the panic,” said Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty International India.

“Complete shutdowns or restricting of internet speed or access makes it difficult for people to navigate their way through a difficult time further undermining their trust in the authorities. The Government of India needs to adopt a rights-respecting approach to protect public health and restore access to 4G speed internet.”

With 335,974 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 14,641 deaths and at least 98,328 people having recovered as of March 23, the world faces one of the greatest pandemic threat to the current generation.

So far, India has reported 396 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country. Of these, four cases have been confirmed by the Government in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

Despite the rising number of cases, on March 17 the Government of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir ordered for the continued restrictions on full internet services such as restricting speed to 2G in the region. Complete internet shutdowns have also been imposed intermittently in certain areas in the guise of security.

To contain the spread of the virus, the government also ordered for the shutdown of all educational institutions, public parks, hotels, restaurants and other restrictions on public gatherings.

Human rights approach must be at the centre of all prevention, preparedness, containment, and treatment efforts to protect public health and support the most vulnerable groups.

The right to health, as guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, provides for the right to access healthcare.

Access to health-related information is also a crucial part of the right to health. Providing “education and access to information concerning the main health problems in the community, including methods of preventing and controlling them” is considered an “obligation of comparable priority” to the core obligations of the right to health.

The latest Situation Report issued by the World Health Organisation on March 17 recommended that that the public must be informed of the situation so that they can take appropriate measures to protect themselves and their family.

It further advised that anxiety around the outbreak can be countered by access to facts from reliable sources that help accurately determine risks so that reasonable precautions can be taken.

The people of Jammu and Kashmir have the right to remain informed of the threat to their health, the measures to mitigate risks, early warning information of possible future consequences and information on ongoing response efforts.

They have the right to information in the local languages and through media and in formats that can be easily understood and accessed, so that they can fully participate and take informed decisions in the response efforts.

Failures to do so can heighten the sense of helplessness, anger and frustration, undermine the public health response, put the health of others at risk, and may constitute human rights violations.

“The situation in relation to the coronavirus is constantly evolving. To ensure its full communication to the people of Jammu & Kashmir, the Government of India must urgently lift internet restrictions in the region and ensure real time preparedness of the people against the spread of the virus. The responses to coronavirus cannot be based on human rights violations and a lack of transparency and censorship,” said Avinash Kumar. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)