Twitter has blocked the accounts of several high-profile Canadians — including NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and poet Rupi Kaur — from internet users in India.
The move was apparently made at the request of India’s government, according to a Sikh organization. The government has shut down the internet in the northwestern, Sikh-majority state of Punjab as they seek to apprehend Amritpal Singh, dubbed a “self-styled preacher” in India’s English-language media.
Balpreet Singh, legal counsel and spokesperson for the Toronto-based World Sikh Organization (WSO) — which bills itself as an organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the interests of Sikhs in Canada and worldwide — provided CBC News with a copy of the email the organization received from Twitter notifying them of the move.
The organization’s account has also been suspended.
“In the interest of transparency, we are writing to inform you that Twitter has received a legal removal demand from the Government of India regarding your Twitter account, @WorldSikhOrg, that claims the following content violates India’s Information Technology Act,” the email reads in part.
Screenshots from Twitter users in India show the blocked accounts contain a message saying the account “has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand.”
Similar messages appear when users attempt to view the accounts of certain Indian journalists, musicians and politicians.
While the banned accounts are not accessible in India, they are still visible in other countries.
Social media accounts of several journalists and leaders in Punjab were also withheld in India in response to legal demands from authorities. This is concerning because it can prevent critical documentation of human rights violations. <a href=”https://t.co/tIEFI1SWZt”>https://t.co/tIEFI1SWZt</a>
The email to WSO states that Indian law requires Twitter to comply with the request and links to a Twitter help page.
CBC News reached out to Twitter for more information, although it is not clear if the company is responding to press following layoffs in its communications department.
On March 19, Twitter owner Elon Musk said all media requests will now receive a poop emoji as a response.
Calls for Canada to do more
The blocked Canadian accounts appear to have spoken out against recent actions of the Indian government in their pursuit of Amritpal Singh.
Jagmeet Singh, for example, tweeted that the internet blackout and suspension of civil liberties in the state of Punjab is “draconian” and “unsettling,” while Rupi Kaur has boosted messages in support of Sikh activists and urging followers to “pay attention to Punjab.”
Less prominent users are also blocked, including Victoria-based Jindi Singh, national director of the humanitarian relief group Khalsa Aid Canada.
“My Twitter account is usually quite boring, but it shows how thin-skinned they [the Indian government] are,” he said.
Singh says the Indian government is making use of weak information and technology laws to suppress freedom of speech within and outside of the country and expressed concern that Twitter was following those demands.
“The more we hear about the kind of relationship between the social media platforms in India and the ruling government, the more we realize how much sway the government has,” he said.
Vancouver’s Mo Dhaliwal of the Poetic Justice Foundation, which has spoken out against Indian government policy on several issues, says anti-democratic actions from India are often overlooked by Western countries
“India gets a pass as if it’s a democracy,” he said, arguing it instead has “all the hallmarks of a fascist state.”
“[India’s] media is weaponized to suit their own interests and purpose … [and] against anybody they call an enemy of the state.”
He added India has been successful in working with big tech companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to “quell dissent even beyond their borders.”
Both men called on the Canadian government to do more to speak out against India and support people in Punjab.
Nearly 25 per cent of the world’s Sikhs live outside of India, including more than 750,000 in Canada and 69,100 in British Columbia.
The Early Edition11:44Tensions in Punjab continue; local leaders worry about growing unrest