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Twitter censors accounts which tweeted out pro-secessionist views on Kashmir, Punjab

Indian authorities told Twitter to block several accounts critical of the government including ones that supported a Sikh secessionist leader.

Around 24 tweets and accounts that put up pro-secessionist content pertaining to Kashmir and Punjab were withheld in India by Twitter as it complied with legal requests made by Indian authorities under the IT Act on July 22. Some of the accounts that were withheld criticised India’s handling of the Kashmir situation. A few tweets made in the context of the Sulli Deals controversy were also withheld.

This content, which is now inaccessible to Indian users, includes the account of Carin Jodha Fischer, a German national who was deported from India in 2016, the account of the Kashmir University’s Students’ Union which has been inactive since 2019, and tweets of Pakistani nationals who have used hashtags that blame Indian authorities for violence in Jammu and Kashmir, among others.

MediaNama has seen public disclosures of the 42 government takedown requests made available by Twitter via the Lumen Database. The Lumen Database receives and publishes disclosures from private entities, including social media companies, of legal takedown notices they get from governments and private entities all over the world. MediaNama has previously reported the withholding of accounts and tweets of several Indian parliamentarians and ministers who had mostly criticised India’s handling of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

MediaNama has reached out to Twitter with queries in this regard and will update the report when they respond.

The lack of transparency when it comes to takedown requests issued by the Indian government signals that the online space for exercising fundamental rights such as freedom of speech is shrinking.

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A look at blocked Twitter accounts related to Kashmir

Kashmir Civitas: The account of Kashmir Civitas with over 9,000 followers, who describe themselves as “an international civil society and strategic advocacy organisation committed to the socio-political emancipation, moral uplift and economic empowerment of Kashmir” was blocked.

Interestingly, one of their tweets from September which promoted a Kashmiri rapper’s new song, said, “Twitter is using algorithimic manipulation to silence Kashmir. We will not be bullied. Download our song of protest featuring @BrotherAli. Speak Truth to Power and Raise Your Fists!”

Mukhtar Baba: The account of Mukhtar Baba, whose Twitter says that he is a resident of Jammu and Kashmir, was withheld in the country for similar posts.

Kashmiri History Pics: An account with over 6.8k followers that usually posts photos and Twitter threads related to Kashmir was also withheld by Twitter.

Other accounts that were withheld include @freekashmir, Mary Scully, and others.

Few Twitter accounts supporting Bhindranwale withheld

Apart from Kashmir-related Twitter accounts, the Indian government also seems to have directed Twitter to withhold those accounts and tweets that were in support of Sikh secessionist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

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Sikh Beard: With nearly 6,000 followers, the account named Sikh beard was withheld in India. The account uploaded Twitter’s notice of withholding, which said, “In order to comply with Twitter’s obligations under India’s local laws, we have withheld the following content in India under the country’s Information Technology Act, 2000. The content remains available elsewhere: @sikhbeard.”

Tweets pertaining to Sulli Deals also withheld

Two tweets made in the context of the Sulli Deals controversy, blaming the Indian right-wing ecosystem for targeting women from the minority community were also withheld in India. While one of them shared an article by siasat.com which blamed right-wing ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar for the targeting of Muslim women, another tweet blamed “Sanghis” in India for the rise in Islamophobia in the country.

Apart from this, other tweets withheld in India include —

  • Tweets related to Babri Masjid in December ahead of the anniversary of its demolition on December 5, 1992.
  • Tweets pertaining to an EU Disinformation Lab report which made a deep dive into an “Indian entity that used hundreds of fake media outlets and the identity of a dead professor to target Pakistan”, according to a report by Al Jazeera.
  • Tweets pertaining to a Muslim man in Ghaziabad who was assaulted. Earlier Twitter had removed 50 such tweets on June 21.

**Update (October 12, 7:40PM): Headline has been updated to reflect factual accuracy. The error is regretted. 

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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