Internet a fundamental right, review suspension: Supreme Court on J&K communication shutdown

The Supreme Court on Friday pronounced its verdict on a bunch of petitions against the internet and communication blackout imposed in Jammu and Kashmir.
By Murali Krishnan | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON AUG 22, 2020 02:03 PM IST
Mobile phone, landline and internet services were disconnected in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir on August 4.(AP)

The Supreme Court on Friday said orders suspending internet in Jammu and Kashmir should be reviewed forthwith. “Such suspension can only be for a limited time period and is subject to judicial review,” said the bench of Justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai. It asked the central government to review restrictions within a week.

The Kashmir valley has been under communication curbs for the last 160 days since the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution.

“Freedom of speech and expression includes right to internet within Article 19 of the Constitution. So the restrictions on internet has to follow the principles of proportionality under Article 19(2),” said the Supreme Court bench adding that all orders imposing restrictions should be published so that they can be challenged in courts of law.

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Restriction on fundamental rights cannot be done by an arbitrary exercise of powers, the bench further said. The verdict came on a bunch of petitions against the internet and communication blackout imposed in Jammu and Kashmir.

Article 370 was nullified on Auguts 5, 2019, and the state was split into two union territories - Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. The Kashmir valley was simultaneously placed under a shutdown in a bid to stifle protests and dissents which were widely anticipated.

“Our limited concern is to find a balance regarding security and liberty of people. We only here to ensure citizens are provided their rights. We will not delve into the political intent behind the orders given,” said the bench.

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Three former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti were also detained along with hundreds of others to prevent protests against the change in the region’s constitutional status. Most of the restrictions have since been eased but top politicians remain under detention and the internet remains largely blocked.

The petitions against Centre’s move were filed by Editor of Kashmir Times newspaper Anuradha Bhasin and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad among others. The which petitioners argued that these curbs were in violation of their fundamental right to speech and expression and the right to move freely under Article 19 of the Constitution.

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The central government had told the court that restrictions were imposed pursuant to orders under Section 144 of Code of Criminal Procedure - a provision which enables District Magistrate to impose restrictions on movement and assembly in public. The Centre had sought to justify the restrictions on the ground of national security.

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