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Freedom of speech and trade through Internet is a fundamental right, says SC asking govt to review all restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir

The top court also observed that indefinite suspension of the internet is not permissible and that repeated orders under Section 144 CrPC will amount to an abuse of power

The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Jammu and Kashmir administration to review all orders of restrictions imposed in Jammu and Kashmir post the abrogation of Article 370 within a week. 

The Supreme Court while delivering a verdict on a batch of petitions on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370, said, “Kashmir has seen a lot of violence. We will try our best to balance human rights and freedoms with the issue of security”.

The top court also observed that indefinite suspension of the internet is not permissible and that repeated orders under Section 144 CrPC will amount to an abuse of power. The Supreme Court also added that the government should publish all orders of restrictions, and should follow the principles of proportionality to adopt less restrictive measures.

“Disagreement does not justify destabilization. The power under Section 144 of CrPC cannot be used as a curb on the legitimate expression of democratic rights. No doubt that the freedom of the press is a right is a part of right under 19(1)(a) and is required in every modern democracy,” the bench said.

On November 27, a three judges bench comprising Justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai had reserved judgment on a bunch of petitions challenging the constitutionality of Kashmir lockdown, which was imposed in the wake of abrogation of the separate status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5 last year.

The court also noted that the Freedom of speech and expression through the medium of the internet is a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The restrictions have to follow the principles of proportionality under Article 19(2). 

“Freedom of trade and commerce through the internet is also a constitutionally protected right under Article 19(1)(g). The suspension of the internet for an indefinite period is not permissible and can only be for a reasonable duration and periodic review should be done. The government should publish all orders of prohibition to enable affected persons to challenge the same,” the Supreme Court noted. 

“It is no doubt that freedom of speech is an essential tool in a democratic setup. Freedom of Internet access is a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of free speech,” the apex court added.

The Supreme Court ordered the suspension of the internet should be reviewed forthwith and that such suspension can be only “for a limited time period”. Any order that has been passed to restrict or suspend internet services will be subject to judicial scrutiny, said Justice NV Ramana. Although the apex court didn’t order lifting of the ban on internet, only ordered the review of the same.

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