The Amnesty International India on Thursday launched a global campaign ‘Let Kashmir Speak’ to highlight the draconian communication blackout in Indian-held Kashmir, terming it an ‘outrageous protracted assault on the civil liberties of the people’. “The blackout has now been a month old and cannot be prolonged any further by the Indian government as it has grossly impacted the daily lives of Kashmiri people, their emotional and mental well-being, medical care and access to emergency services,” said Aakar Patel, head of Amnesty International India in a statement. He said depriving a population of eight million of its right to freedom of expression, opinion and movement for an indefinite period is akin to taking the region back to the dark ages. “The ‘Naya Kashmir’ cannot be built without Kashmiris. The country is yet to hear from Kashmir after a month of being repeatedly been told by the Indian government that all is normal. This is not normal. Let Kashmir speak,” he added. Patel said the current shutdown is against the Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. He mentioned that sketchy reports coming out of the region have highlighted unattended medical emergencies, mass arrests and detentions, children and youth being picked up in the middle of the night, torture of civilians, indiscriminate use of tear gas, rubber bullets and pellet guns at protestors. The attempts to restrict the freedom of press, like in the case of journalist and author Gowhar Geelani who was arbitrarily stopped at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, from boarding his flight to Germany, have further compounded the effect of the communication blackout, he added. According to a recent Kashmir Press Club statement, at least three senior Kashmiri journalists were asked to vacate government accommodations as soon as possible, which is ‘nothing but harassment aimed at coercing journalists to toe a particular line’. The government’s attempts to create a public opinion of ‘normalcy’ in Kashmir while curbing the freedom of independent press have usurped the voice of the people. “This is no more a clampdown on just the communication systems of Kashmir, but a clampdown on the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris,” said Patel. “While Amnesty acknowledges that the Indian government may have legitimate security concerns meriting reasonable restrictions on right to freedom of expression in certain circumstances, it does not believe the current blanket shutdown complies with the need for proportionality as set out under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party,” the statement read. “The blackout has deprived the entire population of Kashmir of their right to freedom of expression and access to crucial information, inflicting a form of collective punishment on the region’s eight million inhabitants,” it added.