Twitter has again permanently suspended more than 500 accounts and blocked several hundred others within India under increasing pressure from the government of Neandra Modi. Twitter had earlier blocked and then unblocked the accounts, calling its own action a “violation” of the users’ “fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.”
The accounts that were re-blocked on Wednesday were reportedly singled out by India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and are only inaccessible in India. They do not include accounts belonging to journalists, media entities, activists and politicians, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The latest censorship of Indian-based accounts comes as the so-called farmers’ protests tied to agriculture deregulation gain strength. Farmers are trying to pressure Modi’s government to repeal laws they say will destroy their family farms and cut their income. The government instead insists the laws will modernize India’s sprawling agriculture sector to ultimately help farmers.
Twitter initially blocked 250 accounts the Modi government said it could prove were inciting violence in the protests through the hashtag #ModiPlanningFarmersGenocide.
Twitter’s action comes as new evidence has emerged that a group of Indian activists who were jailed for more than two years for trying to overthrow Modi’s government were actually victims of a hacker who planted evidence on a laptop seized by police. The new report on the laptop contents used to arrest the activists calls into question Modi’s strong-armed approach to anyone who speaks out against his government.
The Washington Post reports that lawyers for activist Rona Wilson commissioned Arsenal Consulting of Massachusetts to examine an electronic copy of the laptop and found that ten letters used to keep Wilson in jail had been planted. None of the jailed activists have been put on trial under India’s strict anti-terrorism laws. Wilson’s lawyers and human rights groups suggest the planting of evidence is an attempt to suppress dissent.
Twitter’s move to block accounts has angered many human rights activists who say the social media giant is kowtowing to Modi. Twitter said in a statement that its decisions to block users complied with Indian law while “staying true” to its values encouraging open debate.