Twitter has blocked dozens of accounts in India after government demands

Twitter blocked Indian farmers
Bhavjit Singh, 38, a computer professional, poses on a tractor at the site of a protest against new farm laws at Singhu border near Delhi, India, December 14, 2020. REUTERS/Devjyot Ghoshal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Twitter blocked dozens of accounts in India on Monday, including that of a leading news magazine, on the demand of the government on grounds that the users were posting content aiming to incite violence, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The move by the social media giant came in the wake of protests by Indian farmers that took a violent turn last week, resulting in the killing of one demonstrator and injuries to hundreds of people, including police officers.

Tens of thousands of farmers have camped on the outskirts of New Delhi for more than two months, demanding the withdrawal of new agricultural laws that they say benefit private buyers at the expense of growers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government denies this, saying the reforms open up new opportunities for farmers to sell their produce directly to private buyers.

A government official said the Home Affairs Ministry had demanded the suspension of “close to 250 Twitter accounts” that were allegedly posting content that sought to foment violence.

“The order was issued against accounts that were using the hashtag #modiplanningfarmersgenocide that started on Jan. 30,” the government source said.

“Genocide incitement is a public offence and a great threat to public order,” said the official, who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to publicly discuss the matter.

India’s information technology laws empower the government to seek to block online content deemed as inciting disruption to public order.

The Home Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Twitter said it complies with official orders, as required.

“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,” a Twitter spokeswoman said in a statement.

She added that Twitter policy is to “promptly” notify the holders of the affected accounts when it receives requests to withhold them, unless it is prohibited from doing so.

Vinod Jose, editorial director of The Caravan magazine, whose official Twitter account had a following of more than 280,000 and had tweeted reporting on the farmers’ protests, was also blocked along with the accounts of many farm leaders and protest supporters.

Jose told Reuters that Caravan had received no word from Twitter on the account suspension. “This is akin to censorship. Twitter’s act follows multiple cases of sedition filed against Caravan editors for covering the farmers protests,” he said.

The suspended accounts include popular reports by agitating farmers keen to build public momentum for their campaign.

(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui and Devjyot Ghoshal in New Delhi; Editing by Euan Rocha and Mark Heinrich)

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