Twitter defies Indian government and refuses to remove more than 1,100 accounts over farmer protests

Twitter is locked in a battle with the Indian government after it was ordered to take down accounts supporting the ongoing farmers’ protests.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government demanded the social media site take down more than 1,100 accounts and posts it said accused the administration of trying to wipe out farmers.

Ministers also claimed some accounts were backed by rival Pakistan or operated by supporters of a separatist Sikh movement.

Although it temporarily suspended hundreds of accounts early last week, Twitter has since said it will not agree to an outright ban and argued such action would go against Indian law.

Explaining its decision in a blog post, the social media giant said it was “in keeping with our principles of defending protected speech and freedom of expression”.

No accounts from news organisations, journalists, activists or politicians have been taken down, and only a portion of the accounts identified by the Indian government have been withheld in India only.

The accounts continue to be available in other countries.

India’s government has reportedly threatened to punish Twitter employees with fines and prison terms of up to seven years for restoring hundreds of accounts after the initial takedown, according to Buzzfeed News.

Separately, Twitter said it had taken action against hundreds of accounts that violated its rules, including those that were inciting violence or sending abuse, and made efforts to label tweets that spread misinformation.

The site added: “We are exploring options under Indian law – both for Twitter and for the accounts that have been impacted.

“We remain committed to safeguarding the health of the conversation occurring on Twitter, and strongly believe that the Tweets should flow.”

Tensions have been high in India as farmers have continued to protest against new laws on agriculture being imposed by the government.

Demonstrators say the new laws around the sale, pricing and storage of produce will turn agriculture corporate, and make them vulnerable to exploitation by private companies.

Last month, peaceful protests in New Delhi turned violent as police fired tear gas at demonstrators and charged at them with batons.

Police said 300 officers were injured, while hundreds of protesters also suffered injuries and a 26-year-old farmer died when his tractor overturned after hitting a police barrier.

The government has resorted to shutting down the internet in parts of the country in an effort to curb protests, a move frequently used to stop dissent.

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