Saturday June 03, 2023

India censors social media posts on declining internet freedom

By Saeed Niazi & News Desk
June 29, 2022

NEW DELHI: India directed Twitter to locally censor accounts and dozens of posts, including some referencing a report that mentioned the country’s declining internet freedoms, the social media platform confirmed to AFP Tuesday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has been accused of stifling criticism, with rights groups sounding the alarm over growing curbs on freedom of speech in the world’s largest democracy.

Last year the government ordered Twitter to take down tweets by the US think-tank Freedom House that had discussed the detention of Indian citizens for questioning government policy on social media, and the use of internet shutdowns to stifle dissent. The tweets were no longer available in India as of this week, along with several accounts representing Pakistan’s government that had been flagged by India.

Twitter said in a statement to AFP that the removals were “limited to the specific jurisdiction/country where the content is determined to be illegal”.

Among those accounts blocked in India was the Radio Pakistan Twitter account, denying access to information and restrictingdemocratic freedom of expression. The social media handle of Pakistan’s state broadcaster was withheld mainly for highlighting grave human rights violations in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJ&K), said a press release issued on Tuesday.

Expressing concern over the blocking of the Twitter account, state run radio spokesperson Chaudhry Zameer Ashraf said Radio Pakistan always upheld objectivity in its news stories, strictly abiding by international journalistic norms. He urged Twitter to immediately restore access to national twitter account in India to ensure freedom of speech and access to information.

Also, microblogging site Twitter withheld Geo/ The News London reporter Murtaza Ali Shah’s account in India under the country’s Information Technology Act, 2000. Indian journalist Aditya Jha announced that Geo and The News reporter’s account has been blocked in India over a “legal demand” by the state of India. He tweeted: Murtaza Ali Shah has around 550,000 followers on his verified Twitter @MurtazaViews account. He has been associated with The News and Geo for more than 17 years and has been reporting for the largest media group of Pakistan.

Shah confirmed that he received an email notice from Twitter about India’s legal action against his account. The notice from Twitter that Murtaza Ali Shah shared read: “Hello @MurtazaViews, 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 authorised 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,” it read.

Murtaza Ali Shah, who originates from Kashmir but lives in London with his family, said he was shocked to receive a notice from Twitter and termed it an attack on legitimate free expression. He said he had never violated the laws of any country, on cyber space or otherwise. He shared that Twitter sent him an email a few months ago reporting around six tweets, reporting activity by Sikhs in London about the Khalistan Referendum voting in London. Shah said Twitter had informed him that the Indian government had reported these tweets to Twitter, alleging that laws of India had been broken.

Prior to this, said Shah, the Indian govt reported his Twitter for reporting on Kashmir freedom protests held in London. On both occasions, Twitter had informed Shah that no laws of Twitter were broken but that the Twitter was informing him about the reports made on his Twitter account by the Indian government.

Journalist organisations have condemned Indian actions. Twitter has also withheld the accounts of journalists Rana Ayub and activist CJ Werleman following a complaint by the Indian government over his coverage of anti-Muslim violence in the country.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s foreign office tweeted on Monday night that India’s actions were “extremely alarming” and contrary to democratic norms protecting freedom of expression.Indian Police also investigated more than 100 social media account owners who had tweeted about mob attacks on Muslims in India’s northeast last October, including prominent Indian journalists and a US-based law professor.