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News blackout and rising repression in Kashmir and West Papua (Demo)

‘Information siege’ in Jammu and Kashmir

A communications blockade has been imposed on the restive region of India-administered Kashmir since 4 August 2019. This was accompanied by the revocation of Article 370 which upholds the self-governance of Jammu and Kashmir. This is not the first time that India restricted the internet in Kashmir, but what is unprecedented is the decision to ban all communication networks, including landline phones and cable TV. This has made it difficult even for Kashmiris to connect with friends and relatives within the region – aside from making it almost impossible for the local and international media to report on what’s happening on the ground. Newspapers and media outlets have reportedly stopped operating.

Civil society groups, including IFEX members, have signed a statement warning about the impact of the ‘information siege’ on the lives of ordinary people: “These restrictions have thwarted the access to basic services such as emergency medical care – the human cost of this blackout is immeasurable. Businesses in the region have suffered irreparable losses, devastating the local economy.”

There are reports that opposition leaders, activists, and some journalists were arrested after India deployed more security forces in the region.

United Nations experts have expressed their concern about the continuing communications ban. “The blackout is a form of collective punishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, without even a pretext of a precipitating offence.”

Meanwhile, Twitter was accused by the Pakistani government of suspending more than 200 accounts that contained content showing solidarity with Kashmir.

News and internet shutdown in Papua

Protests erupted across Indonesia after soldiers arrested several students and allegedly hurled racist comments against Papuans. Protests turned into riots in West Papua, which led to the burning of the legislative building. The response of the Indonesian government was to send more troops and restrict internet access, in the name of preventing the spread of disinformation. The country’s president also vowed to punish soldiers accused of racism. But tensions remained high, and protests have continued to escalate. The news blackout has prevented credible reporting about the situation of Papuans and the status of the protest movement in the province.

West Papua was a Dutch colony before it became part of Indonesia. There are groups inside and outside Indonesia asserting Papua’s right to self-determination.

According to civil society groups, this is not the first time that the government “has curbed access to information under the pretext of national security and to address political unrest.” Authorities also ordered the throttling of the internet during a post-election protest in May 2019. IFEX member Aliansi Jurnalis Independen has warned that blocking internet services will prevent the public from accessing reliable information during the crisis.

Below are some photos of Indonesian journalists and free speech advocates calling for the restoration of internet services in Papua:

Hong Kong protesters have become more determined…and creative

Protests in Hong Kong continue to attract large crowds on weekends, despite the rising number of attacks and arrests made by the police and the government’s dismissal of the street and airport actions as riots and acts of terrorism.

Since June, almost two million people have marched in the streets against proposed amendments to the extradition law which would allow mainland China to order the arrest of Hong Kong-based dissidents, activists, and even journalists. The bill was already ‘withdrawn’, but protesters continue to demand an investigation into police violence and the granting of universal suffrage. Protests in the past month also highlighted the increasing intervention of China in the current political tensions in Hong Kong. Related to this, Twitter exposed a state-backed disinformation operation aimed at undermining the Hong Kong protests.

Aside from the massive participation of Hong Kongers in the peaceful protests, many also acknowledged the ingenuity of the decentralized protest movement. New tactics and tools have been developed to evade police surveillance and facial recognition technologies, such as the strategic use of umbrellas and the targeted removal of ‘smart lampposts’. New forms of protest actions enjoined the public to show support through initiatives such as the ‘Lennon Wall’ and the ‘Hong Kong Way’. The latter mobilized 200,000 people to link arms across the city.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government responded to the letters sent by IFEX members RSF and IFJ about the police violence against the media, stating that it respects “the rights of the media to report on public events and incidents” and promises that it will “actively investigate illegal and violent acts.” Commenting on the letter, RSF said “this canned response fails to convince, as it uses the same unsubstantial arguments put forth since the beginning of the crisis.”

Focus on gender

In Pakistan, three men were arrested for indecent exposure, after being reported to police by their victims. This inspired many women netizens to share their experiences of sexual harassment and the challenges they have faced in reporting this crime. The #MeToo campaign has encouraged women to speak out against abuse, although they continue to face obstacles such as social stigma, indifference from authorities, and cumbersome legal processes.

The ‘She Connects’ series of new IFEX member Media Matters for Democracy (MMD) offers new stories on the impact of technology on women’s lives. Read about why it’s important to teach digital safety and media literacy to mothers, how confession pages on social media could endanger the safety and privacy of women, and some of the issues facing female journalists in the Sindhi media.

 In brief

Chinese authorities have finally disclosed that Australian blogger and political commentator Yang Hengjun, who was arrested in Guangzhou in January, is facing espionage charges. Media groups like CPJ are calling for his immediate release. CPJ added that “Chinese authorities seem to have a basic confusion that writing about espionage is the same thing as practicing it.”

Burmese filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi was sentenced to one year of hard labor for criticizing the military on Facebook. ARTICLE 19 said the verdict “marks another example of the ludicrous application of justice in Myanmar at the expense of those championing freedom and accountability.”

In Japan, an art exhibition about taboo topics such as the use of sex slavery during World War II was canceled, raising questions about freedom of expression in the country. The statement issued by Japan PEN Club noted that “[w]e must guard against shortsightedness and celebrate the cultural diversity fostered by public displays of art.”

In Papua New Guinea, EMTV news manager Neville Choi was removed from his position, but quickly reinstated after newsroom staff and journalists in the region protested the arbitrary decision. IFEX member the Pacific Freedom Forum asserted that the news team “must be allowed to do their jobs, and the only way to do that is to work without fear of being shown the door.”

ARTICLE 19 called on the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission to end programs involving the public in mass surveillance initiatives – in particular, its recent order asking the public to report ‘inappropriate’ online content relating to race, religion and royalty. The group reminded authorities that “efforts to promote unity by suppressing public discourse are certain to prove counter-productive.”

Special reports

Read the submission of Australia’s Right To Know coalition of 14 media companies and associations, which includes IFEX member MEAA, on laws that parliament needs to review in order to uphold press freedom.

Read this interview with Behrooz Boochani, an award-winning Iranian-Kurdish writer who was a refugee on Manus Island and continues to be detained at Port Moresby. He shares his experience as a refugee and his views on Australia’s immigration policy.

And finally, listen to this podcast about the alarming rise of cybercrime cases in Nepal.

The post News blackout and rising repression in Kashmir and West Papua appeared first on IFEX.


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