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The longest internet blackout ever imposed in a democratic nation is easing, slowly

New Delhi — India has restored very limited internet services in Kashmir after widespread criticism and a rap from the country's Supreme Court. Broadband links to government offices and institutions providing essential services, such as hospitals, banks, hotels, and travel companies were restored as of Wednesday. Mobile data services, personal broadband connections and access to social media sites remained blocked. 

The government has also imposed new rules on service providers, demanding they give access only to "white listed" websites, install new firewalls and maintain a record of all people and devises using the internet in the Muslim-majority region.  

The moves come after India's Supreme Court asked the government to review all restrictions in Kashmir within a week, in response to a major, six-month communications clampdown on the region. 

"Suspension of free movement, internet and basic freedoms cannot be an arbitrary exercise of power… expression of dissent or disagreement against a government decision cannot be reason for internet suspension," the court said last week.

President Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government blocked all communication channels in Kashmir — from phone lines to the internet — on August 5, when, in a widely criticized move, it revoked the Himalayan region's autonomy and stripped it of statehood.

Dozens detained amid tensions in Kashmir 06:26

The government has argued the blockade was necessary to prevent communication between terrorists and to fight fake news. 

The communications shutdown has hit the regional economy hard, causing job losses and disrupting normal life for its 7 million inhabitants. Many Kashmiris were cut off from their families elsewhere in India or the world for weeks after the August 5 communications cut.    

Some phone lines were restored in October, but internet services remained blocked for more than 165 days, making it the longest ever internet shutdown in a democracy. Only China and Myanmar have blocked internet service for longer periods, according to advocacy group, AccessNow

The second-longest internet shutdown in a democracy was also in Kashmir, when officials cut the lines for 133 days in a bid to quell protests following the killing of a militant commander.   

India is now the world leader in internet shutdowns by quantity; the government has severed the lines 381 time since 2012, according to tracking website InternetShutdowns. AccessNow says India accounted for 67% of the total internet shutdowns in 2018.

Muslim-majority Kashmir borders both India and Pakistan, and both countries control a portion of it but claim it in full. It remains the key point of contention between the two nuclear powers, which have fought three major wars over the mountainous strip of land.

India-Pakistan tensions rise over Kashmir 05:49
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