Over three weeks have passed since Jammu and Kashmir has been under a communications blackout, and an internet shutdown, with mobile phone networks suspended, and Kashmiri and cable television services cut off. On 5 August, the Narendra Modi government revoked the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian constitution. Since then, the Valley has been reeling under a security clamp down, with heavy deployment of security forces, severe restrictions on movement, and large-scale detentions across the region. On 22 August, a group of five United Nations human-rights experts issued a statement asking the Indian government to end the crackdown on freedom of expression, access to information and peaceful protests in Kashmir.
David Kaye, the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, was one among the UN experts who urged India to end the communications shutdown. Kaye spoke to Nileena MS, a reporting fellow at The Caravan, about the situation in Kashmir, the obstacles he has faced from the central government as a special rapporteur, and how it reflects on Indian democracy. “A part of the consequence of shutting down communication and internet is to enable the government to have control over the narrative of what is happening in Kashmir,” Kaye said. “That is a real disservice to the people in Kashmir and the whole of India.”
Nileena MS: Earlier this month, in response to a speech by the prime minister, Narendra Modi, on India's recent steps in Jammu and Kashmir, you tweeted about a formal request you had made in July last year. You had sought permission for an official visit to India to evaluate the nature of freedom of expression here. Could you elaborate on the procedure followed in such an evaluation?
David Kaye: One of the regular responsibilities of any UN special rapporteur is to conduct visits to member countries of the UN. We then report on our visits back to the UN Human Rights Council. In order to conduct visits, we need to make a request to the government, the government needs to agree and we need to agree on dates for the visit. I make requests like these all the time. I typically conduct visits a couple of times every year.
My request to India is no different than any of our other requests to other countries. What I would do on a visit includes a number of things. I would examine the legal framework for promoting and protecting freedom of expression, both online and offline. I would also examine the implementation of those rules. That would include intensive conversations with the government, hopefully with senior officials of the government, and also with agencies and departments that are responsible for things like protection of journalists or broadcast or promotion of open and free internet. It could also involve discussion with law enforcement bodies who are concerned, for example, about the use of the internet and reporting that might lead to violence.
I would also have extensive discussions with the civil society, including non-governmental organisations, activists, academics, and journalists who actually experienced and participate in the politics and culture of the country, and who could help me understand the nature of freedom of expression in the country. It would be no different than what we do in any other country.