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Govt Chose Emergency Anniversary to Ban SKM Twitter Handles, Say Farmer Groups

Ravi Kaushal |
Some other farmers organisation accounts and those of some individuals, too, were suspended following ‘legal removal requests’ from the government , said Twitter.
Govt Chose Emergency Anniversary to Ban SKM Twitter Handles, Say Farmer Groups

Image Courtesy: India Today

New Delhi: The official Twitter handle of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), a farmers’ collective that spearheaded the year-long farmers’ movement, was withheld on Monday by Twitter India after “legal removal request” by the government under the Information Technology Act 2000, the farmer group said.

SKM leaders said they received a message from the social media giant that its account had been withheld in response to a legal demand by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and that the company did not furnish any details of what it found objectionable in the content posted online by the morcha.  The SKM led the historic farmers’ movement against contentious three Central farm laws at the borders of the national capital for more than a year. It was impact of the movement that compelled the Centre to repeal the laws in Parliament last year.

The notice by Twitter India to SKM, which ran its handle under the name ‘Kisan Ekta Morcha’,  read: ”In order to comply with Twitter's obligations under India's local laws, we have withheld the following account in India under the country's Information Technology Act, 2000: the content remains available elsewhere. As Twitter strongly believes in defending and respecting the voice of the people who use our service, it is our policy to notify account holders if we receive a legal request from an authorized entity (such law enforcement or government agency) to remove content from their account. We provide notice whether or not the user lives in the country where the request originated.”

The development came days after the accounts of the Caravan magazine was similarly suspended and restored after much public outcry. Even though there have been frequent suspension of accounts in the recent past, some users highlighted that the platform had not taken action against media companies, politicians and certain activists to prevent muzzling of the right of freedom of expression.

In one incident in February 2021, Twitter India had said: “We have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians. To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.”

Advocates of ‘internet freedom’ have been highlighting that the Indian government used Section 69 A of the Information Technology Act 2000 frequently to crack down on social media handles critical of its policies.

Apart from Kisan Ekta Morcha handles, another farmer organisation’s friendly handle ‘tractor to twitter’ was also suspended. Reports said that noted journalist Rana Ayyub, who has written a book on the 2002 Gujarat Riots, was also served a similar notice. However, her handle was operational.

Coming down heavily on the suspension of their official handle, SKM  in a statement, said that Twitter had withheld about a dozen accounts in India, including the Twitter handle @kisanektamorcha allied with the farm movement, without any warning. Among them are important accounts like Tractor to Twitter.

“The important thing in this context is that the Union Government chose the day of Emergency to take this anti-farmer step. The night of 25/26 June 1975, when emergency was imposed in the country, is considered a black day in the democracy of India. By the anti-people provision of the Emergency, the Government of India adopted an authoritarian rule, and the voices raised against the government were crushed. Similarly, today the BJP has put pressure on Twitter to shut down the voice of these Twitter accounts questioning the government, due to which these accounts have been withheld by Twitter,” the SKM statement read.

Hannan Mollah, one of the core committee members of SKM, said after the inception of the farmers’ movement against the three farm laws, various kinds of misinformation and false news was being spread against the movement. “The youth who were active in the farmers’ movement tried to bring the voice of farmers to the world through innovative measures like Kisan Ekta Morcha, Tractor to Twitter, etc. These accounts had millions of followers. During the farmers’ movement that lasted more than a year, these accounts bravely and diligently reported on the movement’s activities, and raised the issue of the oppression of the movement and the protesters by the Government. Through these channels, the voice of farmers came out of the village to big cities and around the world, and in real sense the voice of farmers reached from Tractor to Twitter.”

Mollah said banning of “such a strong voice of farmers-labourers on digital platforms by the government is not only dangerous for democracy, but is also a living example of Emergency.”

He said it was part of a larger campaign of attack against human rights. An example was the arrest of human rights activist Teesta Setalvad who fought for justice for the victims of 2002 Gujarat riots, and former administrative officer RB Sreekumar. Simultaneously, another case has been registered against former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt.

“We strongly oppose and condemn this dictatorial behavior by the Union Government. This is exactly the situation of “the pot calling the kettle black”, where those who demand justice are being arrested, Mollah said.

The statement jointly issued by Hannan Mollah, Yogendra Yadav, Rakesh Tikait among others added that “all the Twitter accounts, including Kisan Ekta Morcha and Tractor to Twitter, which have been withheld undemocratically and unreasonably, should be restored. We also demand that Teesta Setalvad, RB Sreekumar and Sanjeev Bhatt be released unconditionally, and justice should be ensured to the victims of Gujarat riots.”

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