Indian government has threatened to punish Twitter employees with fines and sentences of up to seven years in prison restoration of hundreds of accounts has ordered the company to block it. Most of the accounts 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 magazine, an investigative news magazine. Most of the accounts had criticized Modi, the Hindu nationalist prime minister of India, and his government. But the company restored the accounts about six hours later after a Twitter lawyer met with IT ministry officials and argued that the tweets and accounts constituted freedom of expression and were newsreels.
The government of India disagreed. On Tuesday, the IT ministry sent a notice to Twitter ordering it to block accounts once again. He also threatened people working on the Indian arm of Twitter 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 Internet activist. “I don’t see why the government of India should go into this territory trying to censor tweets when they have much bigger problems.”
A Twitter spokesman declined to comment. An IT ministry spokesman did not respond to any requests for comment.
The move puts the company in a difficult place. Blocking the accounts once again would mean being accused of playing an active role in an ongoing crackdown on dissent in India, as anti-government protests hit the nation. But leaving the accounts on the platform means risking a political and legal confrontation in a major market.
In the notice sent on Tuesday, the government said the accounts “spread misinformation about the protests” and had the “potential to lead to imminent violence affecting the public order situation in the country”. BuzzFeed News has revised a copy of the notice.
The confrontation comes days after thousands of Indian farmers, who have been protesting for months against agricultural reform, say they will damage their incomes, opened police barricades and stormed Fort Roig, a Mughal-era monument. in New Delhi on 26 January. , Republic Day of India. At least one protester as supposed he died. Delhi Police denied their involvement in the incident.
In the notice, the government claimed that the accounts used a hashtag that “has been found to incite people to commit heinous crimes in connection with public order and state security.”
Although the Caravan did not use this hashtag, the government claimed that the “news and press accounts” were spreading misinformation, causing “instigation of 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 the Indian government suddenly finds that journalists don’t have to talk to all sides of an issue,” the magazine’s executive editor, Vinod K. Jose, told BuzzFeed News.
India’s laws forbid Twitter from sharing the legal order it received on Monday, but according to the government’s notice on Tuesday, the company struggled. This document states that Twitter did not block the accounts until 24 hours after receiving the first order and did so a few minutes before a Twitter lawyer met with government officials on Tuesday.
“It is clear that the offensive tweets / hashtags remained in the public domain and must have been tweeted and retweeted several times at the risk and cost of law and order and at the risk of inciting the commission of crimes,” it is said in the notice.
According to the notice, Twitter also sent a response to the government after meeting with officials who did not want to “obey and obey” the government’s order. Under Indian law, according to notice, Twitter is required to comply.
The government also withdrew against Twitter’s “freedom of expression” argument, saying the company had “no constitutional, legal or legal basis” to interpret what constituted freedom of expression under the Indian laws.
Twitter had also argued that there was “not enough justification” to block entire accounts and had said the government should order the blocking of individual tweets. In response, the government notice said it was not the Twitter site to ask the government for justifications.
At the heart of the legal system is section 69A, an article in India’s computer laws that allows the federal government to ask platforms like Twitter to retain “all information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted on any computer resource ”that may be interrupted by the“ public ”. platforms like Twitter are not only required to comply with these orders, but are also prohibited from making them public.
“I hope this case goes to court,” said Pahwa, the founder of MediaNama, “because I think rationally, the government is likely to lose the case.”