Extension of internet bans, suspension of social media accounts: state action on farmers’ protest focuses on suppression of voices

After farmer unions, leaders, journalists and supporters, tribal leader Hansraj Meena and Tribal Army X account withheld by the government

Since the beginning of the ‘Delhi Chalo’ farmers’ protest, which was began on February 13, concerns regarding excessive state actions to repress independent media coverage of the protest and supress the voice of supporters of the farmers’ cause had been raised. Only a few days into the protest saw many ‘X’ (formerly Twitter) accounts, such as the Tractor to Twitter and Gaon Savera, digital news portals known for their vocal support of farmer’s rights being suspended by the social media platform. Even individual journalists, along the likes of journalist Mandeep Punia, saw their ‘X’ accounts being targeted and being withheld. These accounts were majorly involved in disseminating information about the ongoing farmers’ protest and providing on-ground reporting from the protest site.

These tactics of frequently intensifying state-censorship have an adverse impact on an individuals’ right to free speech and expression, guaranteed to every citizen of India under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. A post uploaded on ‘X’ by Alt News Fact Checker showed the number of ‘X’ accounts of ground reporters/influencers/prominent farm unionists covering Farmers Protest in India remain suspended in the country. Notably, most of these accounts are critical of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government.


Farmer leader Sarwan Singh Pandher has accused the Union government of suppressing the voice of the people by employing such tactics. Reportedly, the government had suspended the accounts of around 70 YouTubers who were showing farmers’ protest. This suspension, along with imposition of internet bans and their continuation, ensures that on-ground reports from the protest sites do not reach the common people and it becomes easier for the state to spread disinformation. It is essential to note here that as per the latest notification, on the orders of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, the suspension of internet services has been extended in certain areas of some Punjab districts, including Patiala, Sangrur and Fatehgarh Sahib, till February 24. Earlier, the internet services were suspended from February 12 till February 16 in view of the farmers’ ‘Delhi Chalo’ march.

As per a report in The Hindu Business Line, according to the Ministry’s February 16 order, internet services will remain suspended in areas falling under Shambhu, Julkan, Passian, Patran, Shatrana, Samana, Ghanaur, Devigarh and Balbhera police stations in Patiala; Lalru police station in Mohali; Sangat police station in Bathinda; Killianwali police station in Muktsar; Sardulgarh and Boha police stations in Mansa; and Khanauri, Moonak, Lehra, Sunam and Chajli police stations in Sangrur; and areas under Fatehgarh Sahib police station. The aforementioned powers to suspend internet had been invoked by the Union government under the Telegraph Act of 1885.

Meanwhile, in the state of Haryana, the ban on mobile internet and bulk SMS services in seven districts had been extended till February 20 in seven districts, namely are Ambala, Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Jind, Hisar, Fatehabad and Sirsa. The government had earlier extended the suspension on February 13, 15 and 17. Now that the farmers’ have declared that they will be resuming with their protest on the morning of February 21, the suspension of internet will presumably also be extended.

In addition to suspending the accounts of those involved or supporting the farmers’ protest, the ‘X’ account of prominent Tribal leader Hansraj Meena, a member of the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly, was also withheld. Along with him, the ‘X’ account of Tribal Army, who frequently reports on atrocities taking place against Tribal in India, also saw its suspension.

A statement by Internet Freedom Foundation had been released regarding the imposition of internet bans and suspension of social media accounts. Through the statement, the organisation that works on digital rights had said that “Reports also indicate that X/Twitter accounts documenting protests and alleged human rights violations are also being withheld in India, purportedly due to legal demands under the IT Act, 2000. However, authorities haven’t disclosed these blocking orders, depriving individuals of the reasons for blocking and an opportunity to challenge their legality. This undermines both freedom of expression and the right to information. These actions reveal a disturbing trend of resorting to internet suspensions and online censorship in response to peaceful protests.”

With this, the organisation had urged for the unblocking of X/Twitter accounts of those who are closely documenting the protest and had also called upon the State Authorities to lift the ongoing internet suspension.



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