Twitter Has Deleted 248 Accounts & Tweets From J&K On Govt's Orders
Twitter has blocked several accounts and withheld dozens of tweets in many others after it received official communication from the Indian government asking it to block accounts and tweets, most of these related to Kashmir, reported The Times of India.
In a letter dated 24 August, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had asked Twitter to block 115 accounts, most of these with tweets about Kashmir.
It additionally mentioned 133 tweets in various handles, also on Kashmir, which it wanted to be blocked.
The Ministry had cited the Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 while requesting Twitter to block the Twitter handles and tweets.
One of the deleted tweets was from 17 June; it reportedly featured a photo of a Kashmiri youth who was made to sit on the street, hands tied behind with a rope, in front of two gun-toting government troopers. The other tweet had shared a story about a civilian who said he did not believe there was oppression in Kashmir until he was himself beaten by government forces.
Another Kashmiri journalist was told by Twitter to remove a photo of a youth who was caught by government forces during a stone-fighting incident. The journalist, who contributes to international media outlets, was also asked to remove another photo of a militant’s funeral, in which the body was covered in a black flag with the kalima written on it
The majority of the accounts and tweets from the list of 115 were from Kashmir. But at least seven claimed to be from Pakistan and one from Azad Kashmir. Suspended accounts in the list include those of terror groups and terrorists such as @JamaatudDawahPak, @JuDKWL, and @HMburhanWani. Some accounts from the list of 133 are from Kashmir, though some from Palestine and Pakistan are also included.
A committee to examine the requests had met on 4 August and recommended blocking or removal of the tweets or accounts in the “interest of public order as well as for preventing any cognizable offence”. Under the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009, a committee of joint secretaries, from the ministries of IT, law and justice, home affairs, information and broadcasting and the Indian Computer Emergency Response, have the authority to decide on any content that needs to be blocked under the IT Act.
Responding to a questionnaire sent by The Indian Express, Twitter said it does not comment on individual accounts for security and privacy concerns. The “Country Withheld Policy” of the company states: “Many countries have laws that may apply to tweets and/or Twitter account content…. If we receive a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to reactively withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time.”
Activists and journalists have come out in the open to say that this step by the government amounts to curbing of free speech. This is an example of what the overarching Section 69A of the Information Technology Act is capable of doing. This section gives the central government powers to issue directions for blocking of online content “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states or public order” under prescribed rules.