New Delhi: Popular political cartoonist Manjul has received an email from Twitter stating that the authorities in India believe the content associated with his Twitter account, @MANJULtoons, “violates the law(s) of India”. “Indian law enforcement”, Twitter said, has requested it to take action on this matter.
The email from Twitter is unusual insofar as it notes that the content the government alleges violates the laws of India is his handle as a whole and not a specific tweet from his account.
The cartoonist posted the email on his Twitter page. The email stated that it was merely notifying the user regarding the request from the government agency and was not initiating any action. However, it recommended four options to Manjul: one, challenging the government request in the court; two, contacting civil society organisations for any redressal; three, voluntarily deleting the content (if applicable); or four, finding any other resolution.
The fact that this move comes at a time when the Centre has come up with new IT rules to “regulate” social media in a way that many believe go against the statutes concerning freedom of speech and expression tells us that it cannot be brushed aside as a one-off incident.
In fact, in February, at the height of the farmers’ protests, Twitter had withheld as many as 250 accounts tweeting updates and information relating to farmers’ agitation – also based on a government request. These accounts belonged to individuals, groups and media organisations, including Caravan magazine, Kisan Ekta Morcha and several other independent journalists and activists.
In an order issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to Twitter on February 1, it had asked the micro-blogging site to withhold accounts which, according to the Centre, were tweeting information that could potentially lead to unrest in the country. It further warned Twitter of legal consequences under Section 69A of the IT Act if it did not comply.
However, two days later, on February 3, in a complete reversal, Twitter restored the blocked accounts. The reason for the sudden reversal is not known.
Recently, in the last week of May, Twitter received another notice after it had tagged BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra’s tweet in connection with an alleged COVID-19 “toolkit” by the Congress party as “manipulated media”. Twitter offices in Delhi and Gurgaon have also been raided in connection with this.
Ever since the new IT rules were framed in February by the Centre, there has been an open conflict between Twitter and the Government of India regarding compliance. The matter regarding the new IT rules has also reached the Delhi high court, where the Centre accused Twitter of non-compliance. However, Twitter claimed before the court that it has complied with the rules and appointed a resident grievance redressal officer.