Srinagar: Over 40 global rights groups, part of a campaign #KeepItOn, have demanded the restoration of 4G services in Jammu and Kashmir, saying the absence of high-speed internet is hampering works of doctors, journalists and others amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
In an open letter signed last week by organisations like Access Now, Committee to Protect Journalists, Internet Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, it is said that the absence of 4G internet has particularly hindered the work of health professionals who are on the front-lines combating this global pandemic.
“Doctors in Jammu and Kashmir are struggling to access important information, often waiting hours to download and access information such as guidelines for intensive care management of the virus and best practices recommended by the WHO. The restriction of high-speed internet access has also impeded the work of human rights defenders, journalists and other actors working in the region,” reads the letter, a copy of which was accessed by The Kashmir Monitor.
The coalition of these groups which opposes internet shutdown in any part of the world said that the access to information and the free-flow of communications, including for the media, is more crucial than ever in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, which continues to claim thousands of lives globally, especially given the novelty of the virus and lack of a vaccine.
It said that the people are relying on the internet and digital communication platforms to access life-saving information provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other public health experts.
“Access to accurate information is indispensable in tackling the spread of COVID-19 and it must, therefore, be the priority of every government. The internet is also playing a crucial role during the pandemic in allowing people to carry out important activities while they avoid public spaces since gathering facilitates the spread of the virus,” it said.
The total number of coronavirus cases in Jammu and Kashmir has risen past 500. While 57 cases are from the Jammu division, 466 are from the Kashmir division, according to officials.
The government in March had restored 2G mobile services in Jammu and Kashmir. However, 4G services are yet to be restored.
“Access to the internet is also essential for human rights defenders, activists, and journalists to carry out their work of bringing important information to the doorsteps of the people,” the letter said.
According to the coalition, there have been 213 shutdowns globally in 2019 and the number of countries imposing shutdown increased to 33 in 2019 from 25 in 2018.
India, it said, topped the list of countries with 121 internet shutdowns, followed by Venezuela with 12 internet shudowns, 11 in Yemen, 8 in Iraq, 6 in Algeria and 4 in Ethiopia.
The #KeepItOn campaign is being run by rights groups to fight internet shutdowns globally.