In another incident of online censorship in India, several Twitter accounts critical of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre, including opposition leaders, farmers unions and a prominent media house were suspended due to a “legal” request.
Among the accounts “withheld in India in response to a legal demand” include Caravan Magazine, Kisan Ekta Morcha, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohammed Salim, CPI(M) Puducherry, activist Hansraj Meena, @Tractor2twitr, Aam Aadmi Party MLA Jarnail Singh, actor Sushant Singh and Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan).
News agency ANI quoted sources and said that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology “directed Twitter to block around 250 Tweets/Twitter accounts which were using #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide hashtag & making fake, intimidatory & provocative Tweets on Jan 30.”
“This was done on the request of Ministry of Home Affairs and law enforcement agencies to prevent any escalation of law and order in view of the on-going farmer agitation,” ANI said, quoting sources, again.
“Incitement to genocide is a grave threat to public order & therefore the Ministry of Electronics & IT ordered for blocking of these Twitter accounts & Tweets under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. Twitter has blocked these Tweets/Twitter Accounts,” it added.
Interestingly, the Twitter account of Shashi Shekhar, the CEO of India’s public broadcaster, Prasar Bharati, was also withheld. The Prasar Bharati official twitter account sought an explanation for the same in a post which was later deleted.
Hello @prasarbharati, Why did you delete this tweet? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/rQXhw727cd
— Mohammed Zubair (@zoo_bear) February 1, 2021
The exact number of accounts or posts which have been withheld is unclear as of now.
According to Twitter’s policy for content “withheld” by country: “In our continuing effort to make our services available to people everywhere, if we receive a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time. Such withholdings will be limited to the specific jurisdiction that has issued the valid legal demand or where the content has been found to violate local law(s).”
If one does intend to access content from the withheld accounts, changing to a country to one’s choice through Twitter’s settings is an option.
OK folks. Here's a heads up for all the people who are seeing account withheld messages.
Here's a quick fix.
Go to - > Settings - > Account - > Country - > Change to country of your choice.
Continue as normal. pic.twitter.com/dwLJHLOSxS
— Chirag Patnaik (@chirag) February 1, 2021
The move to restrict access to certain Twitter accounts critical of the government comes at a time when journalists are being slapped with cases for reporting on the protests against the Farm Laws which have enveloped the entire country.
On Saturday night the Delhi Police arrested freelance journalist Mandeep Punia who had accused BJP workers of unleashing violence at the farmers’ protest site at Singhu Border on Friday in a Facebook live session.
An FIR was also registered against The Wire’s founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan for tweeting a story reporting claims made by the family of the farmer who was killed during the Republic Day tractor rally.
Cases against journalists Rajdeep Sardesai, Vinod K. Jose, Anant Nath, Paresh Nath, Mrinal Pande, Zafar Agha, and Mandeep Punia were registered in four states.