Image: The Print
On April 13, the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) tweeted a Vice Media article about the Kumbh Mela saying, “As India’s COVID cases hit a new high, tens of thousands took a ritual bath together” and more text on an image of the Kumbh saying, “Tablighi Jamaat was ‘Corona Jihad’, but no one’s said a word about the Kumbh Mela with millions of attendees”.
But it was allegedly taken down by Twitter at the behest of the ruling regime. The IAMC, that aims for “empowerment through strategic advocacy for peace, pluralism and social justice” has now condemned the action. In a statement released over the weekend, IAMC has “expressed dismay over the government of India’s continued obsession with managing the news coverage of the pandemic instead of the pandemic itself.”
The group said, “As the pandemic rages across India accounting for almost half of all new cases globally, the government ordered Twitter to block over 50 tweets that criticized its complete mismanagement of the pandemic. Among them was a tweet by Indian American Muslim Council, comparing the rabid Islamophobia targeting the Tablighi Jamaat and all Indian Muslims in the early days of the pandemic with the near silence over government support for the massive Kumbh Mela, that has endangered the lives of millions of Hindu devotees and their fellow citizens.”
IAMC also shared a screengrab of the tweet. It may be viewed here:
Khalid Ansari, Vice-President of IAMC said, “The catastrophic surge in Covid-19 cases across India and the collapse of the country’s healthcare system is a monumental albeit avoidable tragedy for which the responsibility lies squarely on the government’s misplaced priorities.”
The groups statement goes on to point out “super spreader” events saying, “Far from leading by example to overcome the crisis, the Modi administration promoted the spread of the virus by organizing countless super spreader events in the form of election rallies where masking was not enforced and where Mr. Modi as well as Home Minister Amit Shah addressed massive crowds.”
As many as 52 tweets by journalists, activists and different organisations were allegedly blocked, in response to a request by the Government of India on Thursday. Medianama first broke the news of this after Twitter disclosed the legal takedown notice to the Lumen Database. Tweets removed include those by Revanth Reddy, a Member of Parliament from Telangana, West Bengal’s Labour and Law Minister Moloy Ghatak, actor Vineet Kumar Singh and many others. The entire Twitter account of Swaraj Abhiyan activist Zia Nomani was also suspended.
In response to the Medianama story, a Twitter spokesperson told the technology policy website, “When we receive a valid legal request, we review it under both the Twitter Rules and local law. If the content violates Twitter’s Rules, the content will be removed from the service. If it is determined to be illegal in a particular jurisdiction, but not in violation of the Twitter Rules, we may withhold access to the content in India only.”
Twitter’s past actions
This is not the first time Twitter has allegedly succumbed to pressure from the Indian government. SabrangIndia had previously reported that Kisan Ekta Morcha (KEM), the official handle of the farmers’ struggle, news magazine The Caravan and multiple media personnel lost access to their Twitter accounts on February 1, 2021 “in response to a legal demand.” However, these accounts were then reinstated by Twitter attracting the wrath of the Indian government.
On February 3, the central government issued a notice to Twitter for “unilaterally” unblocking over 250 such accounts despite being given specific orders by the Government to block them.
Then on February 10, 2021 Twitter said that it would not block accounts of journalists, activists and politicians because such an action would “violate fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.” In a blog post, Twitter further said, “In keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression, we have not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians. To do so, we believe, would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.”
What followed was a virtual meeting between Secretary Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITy), Government of India and a team from Twitter comprising