Senator Edward Markey (Photo: Twitter)

A United States Senator has written to the State Department asking it to urge India to lift the remaining restrictions on internet in Kashmir citing how the same was “preventing doctors from accessing COVID-19 treatment guidance, hindering access to telemedicine, and impacting the efficacy of social media awareness campaigns about the virus.”

Edward J Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts,  in a three-page letter to US Department of State, also called for lifting similar restrictions in Pakistan Tribal areas and allowing telecommunication facilities to displaced Rohingya in Bangladesh.

“Although videoconferencing is helping people around the world cope with isolation during lockdowns, a lack of access to this technology puts further strain on the 1.8 million Kashmiris, or nearly half of all adults, who have some form of mental illness after decades of conflict,” Markey wrote in the letter.

The letter was written on June 4, but released on Friday, hours after Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo released ‘International Religious Freedom Report for 2019 raising concerns over religious freedom in India while giving a detailed account of the protests and criticism against the Indian government’s decisions on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and Article 370.

“As the pandemic worsens in the region, leaders in South Asia must give a lifeline to vulnerable groups like Rohingya refugees by ending communications restrictions. I urge @StateDept to push for changes that save lives while promoting democratic freedoms,” Markey tweeted on Friday sharing the letter.

High-speed 4G internet remains suspended in Kashmir since August 2019 when the Government of India abrogated Article 370 and divided the erstwhile state of J&K into two Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh.

To the petitions in Supreme Court seeking resumption of services, the J&K government, in April, replied that internet was “as an enabler of rights and not a right in itself” and that the “right to access the internet is not a fundamental right.”

Eventually in May, the apex court refused to pass any order on 4G restoration in J&K and disposed off the petitions.

In the letter, Senator Markey also raised the issue of lack of high-speed internet in the restive region of Pakistan’s former Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Markey urged the State Department officials “to press your counterparts in Islamabad to follow through on the Prime Minister’s March 9, 2020 remarks, in which he directed his government to ensure that the areas in question gain 3G and 4G access.”

Markey also talked about the restriction on the telecom services on Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazaar.

While appreciating Bangladesh government’s “generous willingness” to host Rohingya refugees fled the military oppression from their homes in Myanmar, the senator said, “Lack of access to mobile phones and internet is exacerbating the outbreak and hindering an adequate response.

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