Twitter complied with the government’s order on Monday and barred residents of India from viewing more than 250 accounts belonging to activists, political commentators, a movie star and The Caravan, an investigative magazine. . Most of the accounts had criticized Modi, India’s Hindu nationalist prime minister, and his government. But the company reestablished the accounts about six hours later, after a Twitter lawyer met with officials from the Department of Informatics, and argued that the tweets and accounts constituted free speech and were worthy. of interest.
The Indian government disagreed. On Tuesday, the IT Department sent a notice to Twitter, ordering it to block the accounts again. He also threatened people who work for the Indian branch of Twitter with legal consequences, which could include a fine or jail term of up to seven years.
“It’s really problematic,” said Nikhil Pahwa, editor-in-chief of MediaNama, a technology policy website, and Internet activist. “I don’t see why the Indian government should enter this territory trying to censor tweets when it has much bigger issues to solve.”
A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment. A spokesperson for the IT ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
This decision puts the company in a difficult situation. Blocking the accounts once again would mean being accused of playing an active role in the ongoing crackdown on dissent in India as anti-government protests rock the country. But letting the accounts stay on the platform means risking a political and legal showdown in a major market.
The confrontation comes days after thousands of Indian farmers, who have been protesting for months over agricultural reform they say would hurt their incomes, broke through police barricades and stormed the Red Fort, a landmark of the Mughal era in New Delhi on January 26. , Republic Day of India. At least one protester is said to have died. Delhi police have denied their involvement in the incident.
In the notice, the government claimed the accounts used a hashtag that had “been found to induce people to commit identifiable offenses related to public order and state security.”
Although the Caravan did not use this hashtag, the government claimed that “news and press reports” disseminated disinformation, provoking “people’s instigation” and creating “a situation of public order” .
A spokesperson for Caravan told BuzzFeed News their reporting is fair and professional. “We don’t understand why suddenly the Indian government finds that journalists shouldn’t be talking about all sides of an issue,” magazine editor Vinod K. Jose told BuzzFeed News.
Indian laws prohibit Twitter from sharing the legal order it received on Monday, but according to the government notice on Tuesday, the company fought back. The document claims that Twitter only blocked the accounts 24 hours after receiving the first order, and did so minutes before a Twitter lawyer met with government officials on Tuesday.
“It is clear that the offending tweets / hashtag remained in the public domain and had to be tweeted and re-tweeted several times at the risk and to the detriment of public order and at the risk of incitement to the commission of offenses” , we read in the opinion.
According to the notice, Twitter also sent a response to the government after meeting with officials refusing to “respect and obey” the government’s order. According to Indian law, according to the notice, Twitter is required to comply.
The government also rebuffed Twitter’s “freedom of speech” argument, saying the company had no “constitutional, statutory or legal basis” to interpret what constituted freedom of speech under the Indian laws.
Twitter also argued that there was “no sufficient justification” for blocking entire accounts and said the government should have ordered individual tweets to be blocked. In response, the government notice said it was not for Twitter to ask the government for justifications.
At the heart of the legal order is Section 69A, a section of India’s IT legislation that allows the federal government to require platforms like Twitter to withhold “any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computing resource ”which could disrupt“ public order. Platforms such as Twitter are not only required to comply with these orders, but they are also prohibited from making the orders themselves public.
“I hope this case will be taken to court,” said Pahwa, the founder of MediaNama, “because I believe rationally the government will likely lose the case.”