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India blocks 250 Twitter accounts reporting farmers protest

NEW DELHI, India: Twitter on Monday temporarily blocked dozens of accounts and tweets in India at the Hindu nationalist government’s request, including those of a prominent news magazine and farmers staging mass protests in the capital.

An Information Technology ministry source said the government had directed the social media giant to act against about 250 Twitter accounts and tweets that posed a “grave threat to public order”.

The accounts were blocked on Monday afternoon but were accessible again hours later.

Tens of thousands of farmers have been protesting since November 26 in camps on the outskirts of New Delhi against the deregulation of India’s agriculture sector.

One rally last week turned into a deadly rampage. Since then, police have detained dozens of farmers and a journalist who writes for Caravan magazine.

The magazine, some farmer activists and unions, some opposition leaders, an actor and an economist were among those whose Twitter accounts were blocked in India.

A Twitter spokeswoman said “it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time” if “a properly scoped” request is made.

A spokesman for the farmers said their accounts “had not done anything wrong” apart from supporting the long-running protests.

Related story: Indian farmers defiant as police order closure of protest camp

The executive editor of Caravan, Vinod K Jose, said the blocking of their account was the “latest in a long list of targeted attacks” by authorities against the publication over their reporting.

Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders slammed the suspensions, which it called a “shocking case of blatant censorship”.

“By ordering these blockings, the Home Affairs Ministry is behaving like an Orwellian Ministry of Truth who wants to impose its narrative about the farmers’ protests,” the group said.

Since the violence last Tuesday, at least five criminal cases have been registered against journalists and an opposition politician, accusing them of sedition and conspiracy over their reporting and tweets on the rally.

India regularly uses internet shutdowns, most recently at the farmers’ protest sites, to limit information sharing during disturbances.

It blocked broadband internet in Indian-administered Kashmir for several months after cancelling the disputed region’s semi-autonomy in 2019.

On Reporters Without Borders’ 2020 press freedom index, India ranks 142nd out of 180 countries.