The Supreme Court of India on December 7 refused to accept a plea by journalists’ group Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) seeking government compliance with the guidelines for internet shutdown laid out in the Anuradha Bhasin judgment, according to a report by Livelaw.
Livelaw reported that senior advocate Nakul Dewan, appearing for FMP, raised concerns about arbitrary internet shutdowns, to which Justice BR Gavai responded stating that the such moves would depend on the situations prevailing in the states.
Dewan also pointed out that the Court had issued a notice in May asking the government to file its reply. However, Justice Gavai was of the view that a miscellaneous application in a closed matter was no longer maintainable and that the petitioners could at the most request for a review instead. While Dewan highlighted the plea addressed larger public concerns as opposed to a private matter, the plea was dismissed by the Court.
What did FMP ask for?
FMP was one the of the original petitioners in the case filed by Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of Kashmir Times, challenging the extended internet blackout in Kashmir in 2019. In 2020, in a landmark judgment the apex Court had decided that right to access the internet is intrinsic to freedom of speech and expression, called for periodic review of internet suspension orders and had also directed that the State must make such orders public, among adherence to other guidelines under the Telecom Suspension Rules, 2017.
FMP had filed a plea stating that state governments continued to show neglect towards lawful procedures in banning internet. According to the Livelaw report, the foundation urged the court to direct relevant authorities to publicly publish the orders suspending telecommunication services to enable citizens to challenge them if needed. FMP also said that information about such shutdowns must be made available to the public through Right to Information requests. Finally, the organisation asked the Court to clarify that the “source of authority” for issuing telecommunication suspension orders is the Temporary Telecom Suspension (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, and that the State cannot impose such restrictions using Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
Why the plea mattered?
FMP’s plea was important to be considered in context of continued non-compliance with the Anuradha Bhasin guidelines by various state governments that have used internet shutdown as a tool to suppress legitimate expression as well as infringe upon people’s fundamental rights in the name of public order and security in the past few years.
While the State has powers to impose such restrictions in emergency situations, it’s a widely known fact that the state governments have also banned internet for reasons like prevent cheating in exam. It has also been reported that the authorities are not strictly adhering to the internet shutdown guidelines prescribe by the Supreme Court. For instance, in March 2022, the Internet Freedom Foundation had found that the Committee constituted to review internet shutdown orders were not functioning as per law and had failed to record its findings. The Manipur internet shutdown of over 200 days is the most recent case to demonstrate how the state government has been arbitrarily restricting access to telecom services without making the orders or findings of the review committee public. The Manipur High Court recently called out the government to be transparent about the ongoing events in different districts and said that reasonable restrictions cannot be used to erase people’s rights.
- SC Orders J&K Admin To Review Internet Shutdown Orders In 7 Days, Says Right To Internet Is Part Of Free Speech And Expression
- Parliament Report: 7 Key Recommendations On Internet Shutdowns India’s Telecom Dept Didn’t Follow
- MediaNama Statement On Manipur
- After 200+ Days, Manipur Government Restores Mobile Internet In More Areas
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