Indian government has threatened to punish Twitter employees with fines and up to seven years in prison restores hundreds of accounts ordered the company to block. Most of the accounts have criticized the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi.
On Monday, Twitter complied with the government’s order and prevented people in India from seeing more than 250 accounts belonging to activists, political commentators, a movie star, and Caravan, an investigative magazine. Most of the accounts had criticized Modi, the Indian nationalist prime minister, and his government. But the company reinstated the accounts about six hours after a Twitter lawyer met with officials from the IT ministry, claiming that the tweets and accounts constituted freedom of expression and were newsworthy.
The Indian government does not agree. On Tuesday, the IT ministry sent a notice to Twitter, ordering it to block back accounts. He also threatened people working in the Indian Twitter army with legal consequences, which could include a fine and a prison sentence of up to seven years.
“This is really problematic,” said Nikhil Pahwa, editor of MediaNama, a technology policy website, and an Internet activist. “I don’t see why the government of India should enter this territory trying to censor tweets when they have much bigger problems to deal with.”
A Twitter spokesman declined to comment. An IT ministry spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
The move puts the company in a tough spot. Blocking the accounts once again would mean being accused of playing an active role in an ongoing crackdown on dissent in India, while anti-government protests are ravaging the nation. But leaving the accounts on the platform means risking a political and legal standoff in a larger market.
In the notice sent Tuesday, the government said the accounts were “spreading misinformation about the protests” and had the “potential to lead to imminent violence affecting the public order situation in the country”. BuzzFeed News revised a copy of the notice.
The clash comes days after thousands of Indian farmers, who have been protesting for months against agricultural reform that they say will hurt their incomes, broke through police barricades and stormed the Red Fort, a Mughal-era monument. in New Delhi on 26 January. , Republic of India Day. At least one protester he remembers he is dead. Delhi cleaning negatu their participation in the incident.
In the notice, the government said the accounts used a hashtag that had been “instigated to encourage people to commit heinous crimes in relation to public order and state security”.
Although the caravan did not use that hashtag, the government said “press and news accounts” spread misinformation, causing “instigation of the people” and creating “a situation of public order.”
A caravan spokesman told BuzzFeed News that his journalism was fair and professional. “We don’t understand why suddenly the Indian government finds that journalists should not speak on all sides of an issue,” the magazine’s executive editor, Vinod K. Jose, told BuzzFeed News.
India’s laws prohibit Twitter from sharing the legal order it received on Monday, but according to Tuesday’s warning from the government, the company has struggled. This document claims that Twitter did not block the accounts until 24 hours after receiving the first order, and it was only a few minutes before a Twitter lawyer met with government officials on Tuesday.
“It is clear that offensive tweets / hashtags have been in the public domain and should be tweeted and tweeted several times at the risk and cost of public order and at the risk of inciting the commission of crimes,” notice.
According to the notice, Twitter also sent a response to the government after meeting officials who refused to “respect and obey” the government’s order. Under Indian law, the notice says that Twitter is required to comply.
The government also rejected Twitter’s “freedom of expression” argument, saying the company had “no constitutional, legal or any legal basis” to interpret what constituted freedom of expression under Indian law.
Twitter had also argued that there was “insufficient justification” to block entire accounts and had said the government should order it to block individual tweets. In response, the government notice said it was not the place for Twitter to seek justifications from the government.
At the heart of the legal order is Section 69A, an article in India’s IT laws that allows the federal government to require platforms like Twitter to retain “any information generated, transmitted, received, archived. or hosted on any computer resource “that could disrupt” public order. ”Platforms such as Twitter are not only required to comply with these orders, but are also prohibited from making public orders.
“I hope this case is in court,” said Pahwa, the founder of MediaNama, “because I think rationally, the government will lose the case.”