Twitter Calls on Indian Government to Respect Free Speech

NEW DELHI — Twitter on Thursday pushed back against India’s increasingly heavy-handed efforts to police online speech, calling on the government there to respect freedom of expression and criticizing what it called “intimidation tactics” by the country’s police.

In a statement, the San Francisco-based social media service said it planned to push leaders in India to change regulations that have given the authorities greater say over online media and internet platforms.

“Right now, we are concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve,” the statement read.

Citing new information technology rules that the government has implemented, it added that “we, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global terms of service, as well as with core elements of the new IT rules.”

The company also said it had received a notice of noncompliance with India’s information technology laws in connection with a request to remove content posted by journalists, activists and politicians related to the government’s handling of the coronavirus. The notice also included posts related to protests mounted by farmers angry over new agricultural laws passed last year.

Under Indian law, Twitter’s India executives could face up to seven years in prison and a fine if the company fails to abide by government orders to remove content that it considers subversive or a threat to public order and national security.

Government officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The statement follows a rash of moves by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party to curb dissent in the country of 1.4 billion. That campaign has taken on a new edge as the government has come under growing public criticism for its handling of India’s second coronavirus wave, during which infections and deaths have soared and some hospitals have run out of beds, supplemental oxygen and other lifesaving necessities.

Twitter’s statement came just days after officers belonging to an elite antiterrorism police unit paid an evening visit to the company’s New Delhi offices, bearing a notice protesting the way the company had labeled a series of posts by senior officials with the B.J.P.

Those officials had posted documents on Twitter that they said proved that opposition politicians were planning to use the stumbling coronavirus response for political purposes. But Twitter labeled them “manipulated media” following accusations that the documents had been forged.

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