New Delhi: The Jammu and Kashmir administration Tuesday justified the imposition of internet curbs in the erstwhile state post abrogation of provisions of Article 370 and said attempts were made on social media to instigate people for 'Jihad' by separatists, terrorists and Pakistan's Army.
It told the top court that to protect the life and safety of people, prohibitory orders were passed as few persons tried to incite people through "inflammatory speeches". A bench of Justices N V Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and B R Gavai was told by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Jammu and Kashmir administration, that it was not only fighting enemies within but also with those from across the border.
Mehta referred to public speeches and social media posts of former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and leaders of National Conference party against the removal of Article 35A, which gave special rights to permanent residents of the state, and Article 370 that granted special status to the state.
"There were several other messages on social media from mainstream political parties and separatists which justified putting restrictions on the internet," he said, adding that social media is "uncontrolled" and one can convey views using hashtags on twitter handles.
Referring to social media app Twitter, Mehta said that "there were thousands of messages on official twitter handles of Pakistan Army, Afghan Taliban and other terror groups meant to instigate the people of Jammu and Kashmir. There was propaganda by the Pakistan Army. We would have failed in our duty if we had not taken precautionary steps".
The Solicitor General was replying to the petitions filed by Anuradha Bhasin, editor of 'Kashmir Times' newspaper, and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad who have challenged the restrictions imposed in the erstwhile state post abrogation of provisions of Article 370 on August 5.
He said it is an "exceptional situation" which required exceptional measures as psychological cyberwar was propagated by vested interests. "Terrorism uses the internet medium as its most effective tool. Modern terrorism relies heavily on the internet as it has a global impact. The operation is more clandestine.
Internet is used on daily basis to recruit, raise funds and propagating the ideology," he said, adding that as of today restrictions on it have been lifted from Jammu and Ladakh regions.
The bench asked Mehta whether it is not possible to provide the internet with some restrictions. Mehta replied that it is very difficult to segregate especially on such a huge area and added that "the only solution is that either you have an internet or you don't have the internet".
There were prohibitory orders so that there are no congregations which would have created law and order situation, he said. "There was application of mind and restrictions were imposed on need to need basis. As on date prohibitory orders are removed from all the police stations but it is in place during the night time, daily report of CID was sent to superintendent of police," he added.
When Mehta tried to submit a sealed cover report of police officers, advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for Bhasin, objected and said that if any new material is filed then their side should be given a chance to reply to it or else court should not peruse it.
The bench said that according to the Solicitor General these documents pertain to national security and cannot be shared with anyone except the court. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Azad, intervened and said they would assume that material relates to national security, pertains to intelligence inputs and no one can deny the involvement of neighbouring country but the court should not peruse the material given in sealed cover.
The bench said it will not peruse the documents submitted in sealed cover and asked Mehta to explain the restrictions on journalists reporting from Jammu and Kashmir. Mehta replied that there were no restrictions on journalists from August 5 and they were given media passes and their news was even telecast.
He said that on August 5, 1,184 passes were given to accredited journalists while on August 11, around 450 passes were given to other journalists. "From August 10, a media Centre was opened with internet connections for all journalists. Periodically press releases were given. They were free to use unrestricted internet from 8am to 11PM. Besides these, 15 internet kiosks were opened for general public also," he said.
On the comparison to recent Hong Kong protests with the Kashmir situation by the petitioners, Mehta said "apple cannot be compared with oranges as Hong Kong does not face cross-border terrorism and its protest was only a protest".
The hearing in the matter remained inconclusive and would continue on Wednesday. On November 21, the Centre has justified restrictions imposed in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of provisions of Article 370 and said that due to the preventive steps taken neither a single life was lost nor a single bullet fired.
The Centre had referred to terror violence in the Kashmir Valley and said that for the past so many years terrorists were being pushed through from across the border, local militants and separatist organisation had held the civilians captive in the region and it would have been "foolish" if the government would not have taken preventive steps to secure the lives of the citizens.