Extended Internet Ban, Surveillance and COVID-19
Updated: May 3, 2020
April 20th 2020
India continues its Internet Ban in Kashmir hampering efforts to effectively educate the public on COVID19.
This is part of our weekly analysis series, date range 4/13 to 4/19.
Last week’s major story: Despite widespread criticism, the Indian government has intensified its lockdown in Kashmir extending the ban on 4G internet into late April and increasing arrests and surveillance across J&K. During the previous week, both the lack of internet and overcrowded prisons had been highlighted as factors undermining the effort to control COVID-19, but the Indian government has elected to continue these measures along with increased house-to-house surveillance and even more constricted movement.
4G Ban Extended
The government announced on Thursday that the ban on 4G internet was being extended until the 27th of April. Experts and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have claimed that 4G internet service is essential for dealing with the disease, a claim that is echoed by local medical practitioners. Nevertheless, Principal Secretary (Home) Shaleen Kabra responded to these criticisms saying: “the restrictions have not posed any hindrance to COVID-19 control measures.”
Most crucially, doctors have noted that they cannot receive updates on coronavirus treatment from international organizations like the WHO via 2G internet. At the same time, the lockdown in Kashmir had many locals asking for telemedicine services, which are also impossible to conduct over 2G.
Additional Surveillance Measures in Place
Along with the extended 4G ban, the Indian government has also intensified its lockdown in Kashmir conducting expanded door-to-door surveillance and erecting additional checkpoints throughout Kashmir to preclude foot traffic. According to the Kashmir Reader, “On orders issued by Divisional Commissioner Kashmir PK Pole, doctors and health workers have started a massive door-to-door survey of ‘every house in Kashmir; to identify people with fever, flu or other symptoms of Covid-19.”
According to the Deccan Herald, dozens of so-called ‘Red Zones’ have been cut off, aiming to isolate those infected: “The officials said the security forces sealed off main roads in most places in the valley and erected barriers at several other places to check the unwanted movement of the people and to enforce the lockdown.”
The Indian government may be intensifying these security measures under the cover of COVID-19 to socialize residents to more extreme repression. This conclusion is supported by the fact that measures that would actually help control the virus, such as releasing prisoners of conscience from overcrowded jails or restoring reliable communications, have not been pursued. Americans for Kashmir continues to urge policy makers to call for an immediate lift to all internet restrictions and the release of political prisoners as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the valley.