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India to lift lengthy internet clampdown in Kashmir: official

·2-min read
Internet speeds appeared to jump shortly before midnight in restive Kashmir

Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir said Friday they would restore high-speed web access in the region, bringing to an end what rights groups have called one of the world's longest internet clampdowns.

New Delhi imposed a communications shutdown on August 5, 2019 in restive Kashmir to quell unrest after it revoked the region's semi-autonomy and brought it under direct rule.

Access to slow, 2G internet for mobile and fixed-line subscribers was restored in March 2020, but high-speed 4G access remained blocked.

Authorities then issued fortnightly orders restricting mobile data speeds, with the latest rolling ban due to expire on Saturday.

"4G mobile internet services being restored in entire J&K," Rohit Kansal, a spokesman for the Jammu & Kashmir territory, tweeted late Friday.

No further details were released, but an AFP journalist in Kashmir's main city of Srinagar reported a jump in mobile internet speeds just before midnight local time.

The 4G announcement follows international scrutiny on internet blackouts around India's capital New Delhi, where farmers protesting new agriculture laws have been camping out for more than two months.

Pop superstar Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted a link to a news story about the blackouts and commented on the protests Tuesday, triggering a furious response from the foreign ministry which slammed the "sensationalist" social media comments.

In Kashmir, officials had said internet restrictions were needed to clamp down on protests and prevent armed rebels -- who have been challenging Indian rule since 1989 in fighting that has killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians -- from launching attacks on government forces.

Apart from the shutdown, authorities often cut access to mobile internet services in parts of the region, fearing unrest or during gun battles between rebels and Indian soldiers.

India -- the world's biggest democracy -- restricted internet access more often than any other country in 2020, imposing over 75 blackouts, many in Kashmir, according to British virtual private networks review site Top10VPN.com.

Human Rights Watch last year called for full internet access to be restored in Kashmir, saying it had badly affected businesses, students' access to education and medical services during the coronavirus pandemic.

pzb/grk/wat