August 13, 2019 / 12:40 PM / 10 days ago

India needs time to restore order in Kashmir: Supreme Court judge

NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Indian authorities need more time to restore order in Kashmir, a Supreme Court justice said on Tuesday as a security clampdown entered a ninth day since New Delhi revoked the region’s special status, triggering protests.

Kashmiri man waits before Eid-al-Adha prayers during restrictions after the scrapping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir by the Indian government, in Srinagar, August 12, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

The court is hearing an activist’s petition seeking to lift curbs on communications and movement that have disrupted normal life and essential services in the Himalayan region.

Telephone lines, internet and television networks have been blocked since August 5 when India withdrew Jammu and Kashmir state’s right to frame its own laws and allowed non-residents to buy property there.

Restrictions on movement and assembly, including a ban on gatherings of more than four people, were tightly enforced on Tuesday in the region’s main city, Srinagar.

Menaka Guruswamy, a lawyer for the petitioner, said the court should move to restore hospital services and open schools.

“That is all I ask,” she told the Supreme Court in New Delhi.

Justice Arun Mishra said the government wanted to bring Kashmir back to normal as soon as possible.

“The situation is such that nobody knows what is going on. We should give them time to restore normalcy. Nobody can take one percent of chance,” Mishra said. “Who will be responsible if something really bad happens tomorrow?”

The petition also seeks the release of detained political leaders in Kashmir, among more than 300 people held to prevent widespread protests.

The court is expected to rule on the petition in a few days.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move on Kashmir threw a tighter grasp on the country’s only Muslim-majority region, and drew strong protests from neighbouring Pakistan, which also lays claim to the region.

Indian officials say the situation is normalising and announced plans for a three-day investor summit in Kashmir beginning October 12, to kickstart economic growth.

Navin Kumar Choudhary, Jammu and Kashmir’s principal secretary of industry and commerce, said the government would try to drum up investment in tourism, horticulture and film production in Kashmir, famous for its alpine scenery and fertile soil.

Modi’s government has said the old laws prohibiting people from outside Kashmir from buying property, settling there and taking up government jobs had hindered its development.

Restrictions were lifted in five districts of Jammu on Monday, and relaxed in nine Kashmir districts, the home ministry said. Still, it said there would be heightened security for Pakistan’s Independence Day on Wednesday followed by India’s the next day and then Muslim Friday prayers.

On Monday, authorities sealed off parts of Srinagar, where hundreds of people shouting anti-India slogans spilled onto the streets following prayers on the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

Rahul Gandhi, leader of opposition Congress party, said on Tuesday he and his colleagues want to visit the state, responding to media reports of an invitation from authorities overseeing Kashmir.

Gandhi tweeted “but please ensure us the freedom to travel and meet the people, mainstream leaders and our soldiers stationed over there”.

TWEETS BLOCKED

India has raised concerns about some Twitter posts on the situation in Kashmir, where militants have been fighting Indian rule for nearly three decades.

Police in Kashmir said they asked Twitter to act against a malicious post from one user. Indian media reported on Monday that the government had asked the company to suspend eight accounts accused of spreading false information about Kashmir.

A police officer told NDTV news network that some of the accounts were run by Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

A spokesman for the publicity wing of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services said it had no involvement in the accounts.

A Twitter spokesperson said the company does not comment on individual accounts for “privacy and security reasons”.

Madiha Shakil Khan, who operates one of the eight Twitter accounts, said she was not formally contacted by Twitter, but one of her tweets about fighting for Kashmir’s freedom was blocked in India.

An Indian police officer stands behind the concertina wire during restrictions on Eid-al-Adha after the scrapping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir by the Indian government, in Srinagar, August 12, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Khan, whose account @Red4Kashmir has about 700 followers, lives in Islamabad but hails from Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

“I am tweeting in solidarity with Kashmiris,” Khan, 28, told Reuters by telephone, adding that she had no ties to Pakistan’s ISI. “Kashmir is being totally censored. They only want the Indian narrative. Every month they suspend me.”

India’s home ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Additional reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar and Aditya Kalra and Devjyot Ghoshal in New Delhi; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Darren Schuettler and Frances Kerry

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