Supporters of right-wing Hindu groups burn an effigy in India's Haryana state on August 2, 2023. During that month, X blocked the tweets of three journalists reporting on violence against Muslims in India. (AP/Ajit Solanki)

India blocks journalists’ tweets about violence against Muslims

Three Indian journalists, who spoke to CPJ, said that X, formerly Twitter, blocked their posts about violence against Muslims in response to opaque legal demands from the government in August.

Since August 8, the X account of independent journalist Ahmed Khabeer has been blocked in India, he told CPJ by phone. Khabeer published the email he received from X, which said it had “received a legal removal demand from the Government of India regarding your Twitter account, @AhmedKhabeer_, that claims the following content violates India’s Information Technology Act, 2000.”

The email did not provide any further details about the alleged illegal tweets.

Khabeer told CPJ that he believed he was targeted for his extensive coverage of violence against Muslims and the Dalit minority that was “completely ignored by the mainstream media.” In early August, he posted videos which he said showed an attack on a Muslim man by the Hindu supremacist group Bajrang Dal and authorities’ demolition of Muslim homes in northern Haryana state.

Separately, independent journalist Rohini Singh posted two critical comments on X about a video of a teacher ordering her students to slap a seven-year-old Muslim student, which went viral after being published on August 25. Singh received two emails from X, reviewed by CPJ, which said her tweets had been withheld in India in response to demands from the Indian government under the IT Act. X also blocked tweets on the issue by other users of the platform. 

“I believe my tweets were withheld because the government has an issue with the reporting of a crime rather than the crime itself,” Singh told CPJ via messaging app.

Religious tensions are on the rise in India under the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which aims to transform secular India into a Hindu nation.

NDTV news anchor Gargi Rawat also posted a link on X to her outlet’s article about the teacher slapping the student in northern Uttar Pradesh state. It was also blocked, she told CPJ via messaging app.

The three journalists told CPJ that they had not received any explanation from the government as to how they had violated the IT Act, which empowers the government to block content on vague grounds including the “sovereignty and integrity of India.”

Digital rights experts say that India is not respecting its legal obligations under a 2015 Supreme Court order to provide a person or outlet that has allegedly produced offensive content with a copy of the blocking order and an opportunity to be heard by a government committee before it blocks their content.

On August 12, X also suspended the account of NewsClick after a BJP lawmaker said in parliament that the independent website received funding from China to create an “anti-India” atmosphere. NewsClick is known for publishing articles critical of the BJP government. Its account was restored the following day.

NewsClick’s editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha did not respond to CPJ’s messages requesting comment. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology also did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.

[Editor’s note: The 11th paragraph has been updated to correct the date that NewClick’s account was restored.]