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Twitter blocks Kashmir-related tweets and handles in India after govt order

Twitter has censored several Kashmir-related tweets and handles after an order by a Blocking Committee under the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY), the Hindustan Times reported. This was first spotted by the blog WithKashmir. Last week, the microblogging site blocked the handles of the Dera Sacha Sauda and its leader, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. Twitter blocked his account following a request from the Haryana Police, a legal request made public by Twitter shows.

While the text of the Haryana order hasn’t been made public by Twitter, the MeitY order and its accompanying list of handles and tweets are available on Lumen, an international database of copyright-related takedown requests — and more recently, government block orders — that Twitter has partnered with. MeitY ordered the blocks after a meeting of a ‘Blocking Committee’ early last month.

What was blocked

Among several tweets — many that received little attention — are posts by Kashmiri and Pakistan-based Twitter handles. For instance, one tweet has a photograph depicting a “gathering in the name of Martyrs of Kashmir” in Lahore. Other tweets include mentions of Burhan Wani, a Kashmiri militant who was killed by the Indian army in July last year. These tweets came around the one-year anniversary of Wani’s killing.

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There are handles and tweets that have not been withheld by Twitter, though. Rather, these handles received an email from the company offering them a chance to delete tweets from their handle that were mentioned by the government as an alternative to being blocked in India. “[Correspondence from the Indian government] claims that your account is in violation of Indian law,” the email says, warning users that their handles may be withheld if they don’t voluntarily remove the tweets from their account.

Later, Pakistani journalist Sabena Siddiqi, who primarily writes for China-based publications on geopolitics, also said that she received a similar email, though her handle does not appear in the MeitY list created last month. Siddiqi said that she has offered to delete the tweets that the Indian government had flagged to keep her account from being blocked in India. Lumen does not throw up any legal orders for Siddiqi’s handle, perhaps because the handle may be in a PDF that has not been indexed by the website.

How Twitter blocks in India

“In our continuing effort to make our services available to users everywhere, 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,” the company says on its website.

This ‘withholding’ of access — as opposed to outright blocking — allows the social media company to continue offering access to handles and posts that it is legally required to block access to in any territory. However, these withheld tweets and handles are visible by simply changing the location on one’s Account settings.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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