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Twitter resists Indian government’s orders to block protest accounts

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The company explains how it’s responding to government orders

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Twitter has refused an order from the Indian government to block certain Twitter accounts, including ones from politicians, activists, and journalists that were critical of the government’s response to a protest carried out in the country’s capital in January.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Twitter explained that, while it has started blocking some accounts, it has “not taken any action on accounts that consist of news media entities, journalists, activists, and politicians” because it believes doing so would “violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.”

Starting at the beginning of February, the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has sent orders to Twitter to block a number of accounts and hashtags connected to mass protests that have gripped the country. Many of the accounts were critical of the Indian government and its response to the protests, including the official Twitter account of a prominent magazine The Caravan. According to BuzzFeed News, the government ordered the accounts suspended because they were “spreading misinformation about protests.”

Twitter initially complied with the orders, a decision that drew significant criticism from civil rights groups. Some activists called the action censorship, while others accused of Twitter bowing to government overreach.

The protests have been building since November, and have resulted in violence, deaths, and internet blackouts in parts of the country’s capital region. Tens of thousands of farmers have gone on strike over the course of the protests, according to the BBC. The farmers are concerned about changes to agricultural laws in India that they fear could cut their income. Farming policy is a hugely important issue in India. According to CNN, 58 percent of the people in the country make their money primarily through agriculture.

Twitter’s justification for unblocking the accounts, in opposition to government orders, is it believes keeping them inaccessible “would violate their fundamental right to free expression under Indian law.” In its blog post, Twitter says it “do[es] not believe that the actions [it has] directed to take are consistent with Indian law,” and that unblocking the accounts is consistent “with [its] principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression.”