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Rights Group Calls for Moratorium on Internet Shutdowns Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

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Internet shutdowns could be jeopardizing lives as the coronavirus pandemic wrecks havoc across the world, Human Rights Watch warns.

Governments currently imposing blackouts amid the crisis should immediately lift restrictions so that people can have access to crucial health information, the New York-based rights groups said in a statement Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch listed India, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Ethiopia as countries where government-imposed internet blackouts are limiting the flow of information on health measures, movement restrictions and other critical guidance.

“During this global health crisis, shutdowns directly harm people’s health and lives, and undermine efforts to bring the pandemic under control,” says Deborah Brown, a senior digital rights researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch.

“Governments should ensure immediate access to the fastest and broadest possible service for all, Brown says, adding that it is “time to impose a moratorium on internet shutdowns.”

According to digital rights advocacy group Access Now, 33 countries experienced government-imposed internet shutdowns in 2019. Official justification for the restrictions ranged from national security to the need to fight online misinformation.

India recorded 121 incidents of internet blackouts last year, topping the list of countries ordering shutdowns. While internet in the region of Kashmir has largely been restored, high-speed internet remains blocked, according to Al Jazeera. Doctors there have reported that the slow internet speed has handicapped them when it comes to downloading COVID-19 medical research.

In Bangladesh, internet restrictions are hindering humanitarian groups from administering much-needed aid to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Human Rights Watch says.

Over 786,000 people globally have been infected with the coronavirus and 37,800 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University’s virus tracker.

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Write to Hillary Leung at hillary.leung@time.com