On Monday, the Modi government in India ordered the suspension of hundreds of Indian Twitter accounts for allegedly inciting violence through their content. The accounts were suspended for more than 12 hours and also included the accounts of renowned activists, news websites, and actors.
Indian farmers have been protesting against new farm reforms for months now, which took a violent turn last week when police officers were sent to curb the protest and the farmers confronted them. As a result, hundreds, including police officers suffered injuries and one protestor lost their life.
The Indian home affairs ministry had ordered the suspension of “close to 250 Twitter accounts” on the allegation of spreading violence through their content, an Indian government official told The Guardian.
“The order was issued against accounts that were using the hashtag #modiplanningfarmersgenocide that started on 30 January,” sources revealed.
Let this be clear that not a single Twitter account blocked in India for 5 hours yesterday had spread any fake news or broke any law. Let this be clear no legal order has been cited for the action, in absence of which it is Twitter that's guilty of violating our rights.— Sanjukta Basu (@sanjukta) February 2, 2021
Let this be further clear, no ministry has any authority under the Constitution to send an order to Twitter to block accounts using a certain hashtag or any other reasons. Any such order has to be obtained from a Court after giving an opportunity to be heard to all sides.
— Sanjukta Basu (@sanjukta) February 2, 2021
The accounts of an Indian news website Caravan India, author and social activist Sanjukta Basu, activist Hansraj Meena, actor Sushant Singh, the CEO of the broadcasting agency Prasar Bharti, Shashi Shekhar Vempati, and two accounts vocal about the farmers’ protests, namely Tractor2Twitr and Kisan Ekta Morcha, were suspended without warning and with a one-liner which stated: “account has been withheld in India in the response of a legal demand.” The details of the legal demand were not revealed and the accounts could still be accessed outside India.
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According to a statement by Twitter on “country-withheld content“, withholding content or suspension of accounts and content was common as the social media website tries to balance respect for user expression and local laws together.
It said, “many countries have laws that may apply to tweets and Twitter account content.”
“If we receive a 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.”
Our Official Twitter Account Withheld !!
Why is govt. suppressing the voice of farmers?
Does govt. fear farmers’ stern actions?
— Kisan Ekta Morcha (@Kisanektamorcha) February 2, 2021
The statement further stated that Twitter has a policy to “promptly” let the account users know that it has gotten requests to withhold them unless it is legally not allowed for them to do so. However, the editorial director of Caravan India, Vinod Jose did not receive any notification. “This is akin to censorship. Twitter’s act follows multiple cases of sedition filed against Caravan editors for covering the farmers’ protests,” Mr. Jose told Reuters.
In September 2020, the Modi government passed three farm laws aiming to deregulate the agriculture sector in India, allowing farmers to get in contact with private buyers and companies to sell their produce. However, farmers are concerned that they may not have the skills to bargain with the large companies to get the price they usually get from the state. They fear they would be exploited at the hands of large corporations for profits, which they cannot afford since their livelihood depends on the agriculture sector.
The Modi government has stated that the laws do not take away the minimum support price (MSP) set by the state, but no such thing has been written in the laws, which has the farmers greatly concerned. As a result, in late November 2020, thousands of farmers from Punjab and Haryana set out to protest in New Delhi.
Despite the eight rounds of talks conducted between the farmers and the Indian government, no progress could be made regarding the farm laws. The farmers demand the government to revoke the three laws, but the government has refused.
The protestors came under multiple rounds of police shelling of tear gas shells as they reached the Singhu border in November, water cannons were deployed as well.