The Indian government has threatened to punish employees at Twitter with fines and up to seven years in prison recover hundreds of accounts It ordered the company to block. Most accounts criticized the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi.
On Monday, Twitter obeyed a government order and prevented people in India from viewing more than 250 accounts belonging to activists, political commentators, a movie star and Caravan, a news magazine. investigate. Most accounts have criticized Modi, India’s Hindu nationalist prime minister, and his government. But the company reinstated the account about six hours later after a Twitter lawyer met with IT ministry officials and argued that tweets and accounts constitute free speech and trust.
The Indian government disagrees. On Tuesday, the IT ministry sent a message to Twitter, asking it to block the accounts again. It also threatens people who work at Twitter’s Indian branch with legal consequences, which can include fines and up to seven years in prison.
“This is really a problem,” said Nikhil Pahwa, editor of MediaNama, a technology policy website and internet activist. “I don’t understand why the Indian government has to go into this territory trying to censor tweets when they have bigger problems to deal with.”
A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment. An IT ministry spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
This move put the company in a difficult position. Blocking accounts again will mean allegedly playing an active role in an ongoing crackdown on dissidents in India, as anti-government protests takes place across the country. But leaving the accounts on the platform means running the risk of a political and legal struggle in a large market.
In a statement sent on Tuesday, the government said the accounts had “spread false information about the protests” and had “potentially led to imminent violence affecting the orderly situation.” public in the country. ” BuzzFeed News reviewed a copy of the announcement.
The confrontation comes days after thousands of Indian farmers, who have been protesting agricultural reform for months that they think will affect their income, have overcome police barriers. and burst into the Red Fort, a Mughal-era relic in New Delhi on January 26, Republic Day of India. At least one person objected reported died. Delhi police negative their participation in the incident.
In the announcement, the government stated that accounts that used a hashtag were “found to incite people to commit recognizable offenses related to public order, and Security of the State. “
Although Caravan did not use that hashtag, the government argued that “news and press accounts” spread false information, causing “people’s instigation” and creating ” public order situation ”.
A Caravan spokesperson told BuzzFeed News its journalism is fair and professional. “We don’t understand why the Indian government has suddenly realized that journalists should not talk to all sides of an issue,” the magazine’s executive editor, Vinod K. Jose, told BuzzFeed News.
Indian law forbids Twitter from sharing the legal order it received on Monday, but according to a statement on Tuesday from the government, the company resisted. That document claimed that Twitter did not block the accounts until 24 hours after receiving the first order and did so just minutes before a Twitter lawyer met with government officials on Tuesday. .
“It is clear that the offending tweets / hashtags remain in the public domain and must be retweeted and retweeted multiple times at the expense and expense of public order and in danger of inciting the violation,” the statement said.
According to the announcement, Twitter also sent a response to the government after it met with officials who refused to “comply and obey” the government order. Under Indian law, the notice said, Twitter must comply.
The government also pushed back on Twitter’s “free speech” argument, saying that the company had no “legal, statutory or legal basis” to explain what constitutes freedom of speech. according to Indian law.
Twitter has also argued that “there is not enough reason” to block the entire account and has said that the government should order a blocking of individual tweets. In response, the government announcement said Twitter is not the place to seek justification from the government.
The focus of the legal order is Section 69A, an article in India’s IT law that allows the federal government to require platforms such as Twitter to retain “any information created, transmitted, received, stored or Storing in any computer resource “may interrupt” public ordering. “Platforms like Twitter are not only required to comply with these orders, but are not allowed to make these orders public.
Pahwa, the founder of MediaNama, said: “I hope that the case will go to court, as I believe logically the government is likely to lose.”