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Jalandhar: A day after slain singer Sidhu Moosewala’s song ‘SYL’ was taken off YouTube after a legal complaint from the government, Twitter has withheld two accounts that had been active on behalf of farmers during the anti-agricultural laws protests last year.
The account @Kisanektamorcha, the official handle of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), was withheld on the morning of Monday, June 27. The other account, @tractor2twitr, was withheld on Sunday night.
Twitter India sent an email to both the Twitter accounts informing them:
“In order to comply with Twitter’s obligations under India’s local laws, we have withheld the following account in India under the country’s Information Technology Act, 2000, the content remains available elsewhere.”
Both Kisan Ekta Morcha and @tractor2twitr were launched during the year-long farmers’ protests at Delhi’s borders. The central laws were eventually rolled back. The @Kisanektamorcha Twitter account had been withheld for a while during the protest as well.
Besides these two big accounts, some other Twitter handles which are vocal on pro-farmer or pro-Sikh issues were also withheld, like the Twitter handle of a Kashmiri Sikh Amaan Bali (@amaanbali), Jakara Movement (@JakaraMovement), @SherePanjabUK and some others. A prominent Twitter handle @SikhSiyasat had been withheld for a while earlier.
Responding to the development, Kisan Ekta Morcha head Baljit Singh said, “We received an email on Monday morning, where it was mentioned that our account was being withheld under IT Act 2000. We are replying and will question why our account was withheld. If our account is not restored, we will take the legal route. We are in touch with senior SKM leaders Rakesh Tikait, Dr Darshan Pal, Manjit Rai and Jagjit Singh Dallewal and will decide our action accordingly.”
Baljit Singh said that the Kisan Ekta Morcha Twitter handle was a big platform to deliver important messages and to issue calls for protests. “Recently, on June 24, the SKM had given a call for nationwide protest against the ‘Agnipath’ scheme of the Indian Armed Forces. It received a thumping response. This is an attack on freedom of speech and an attempt to silence us. It is surprising that Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G7 Summit spoke about freedom of speech and democracy but back home, his words and actions do not reflect those values.”
SKM leader and president of the Krantikari Kisan Union, Dr Darshan Pal condemned the move. “Both the Twitter handles were platforms to raise farmers’ issues. This is, out and out, an attempt to silence our voices. All justice loving and pro-democracy people and groups need to come together, lest we end up becoming a country of Hitler and Mussolini,” Pal said.
A member of the team which runs @tractor2twitr, Bhavjit Singh, said the withholding move made it a ‘legal matter’.
“We did not even receive an upfront notice. If we have done something unethical or wrong, then they should send us that tweet, give us time and seek our reply. But they directly withheld our account. Basically, Twitter India has surrendered itself to the Central government,” he said.
Notably, the @tractor2twitr account had tweeted about the ban on the song ‘SYL’ in India, and questioned the government. “Our point was that Sidhu Moosewala merely spoke about river waters, Sikh prisoners and unification of Punjab, so why ban the song? The larger picture is that this is not an isolated case. This trend of banning Twitter handles has been going on for the last two years. The action started from farmers’ protest and it is still going on,” he said.
@tractor2twitr had also been vocal against about Agnipath scheme. It held Twitter Spaces (audio chatrooms to which many listeners can tune in) on the Dam Safety Act, 2021, myriad farmers issues, ‘SYL’, the Bhakra Beas Management Board row, attempts to convert Chandigarh’s Panjab University into a central university, and the handing over of Chandigarh to Punjab.
“We feel that it is not just the Central government but the Aam Aadmi Party government in Punjab too, which is rattled by our tweets. Since the farmers’ protest was lifted in December 2021, we had started taking up Punjab centric issues, which might have led to this action. But our tweets and Twitter spaces are always well researched and totally based on facts,” he said.
Bhavjit also shared that the account is also facing a Rs 2-crore defamation suit from a news channel, which was filed during farmers’ protest. “The case is going on,” he said.
Some Punjab Congress leaders are among those who have tweeted against this action to withhold these accounts.
I’m saddened to state that our fundamental right of freedom to speech is not only being denied but coercive action taken by Bjp govt against those daring to speak the truth! First they banned @iSidhuMooseWala Syl song & now @Tractor2twitr account has been withheld! No democracy! pic.twitter.com/kUbcbKOWj8
— Sukhpal Singh Khaira (@SukhpalKhaira) June 27, 2022
किसानों की आवाज़ उठाने वाला ट्विटर अकाउंट @tractor2twitr केन्द्र सरकार के कहने पर @TwitterIndia द्वारा बंद कर दिया गया है। ये वाकाई शर्मनाक है। @Twitter @TwitterIndia ये बोलने की आज़ादी के ख़िलाफ़ काम कर रहे हैं आप लोग । pic.twitter.com/bni5AzutYy
— Pargat Singh (@PargatSOfficial) June 26, 2022