At the same time human rights experts are warning that 200 million Muslims are being pushed to the brink of genocide by the Indian Government’s discriminatory policies, Twitter appears to be making itself complicit in this looming human rights catastrophe.
The social media giant has banned accounts critical of the Government at its request, particularly those that report anti-Muslim hate crimes.
This includes my own account. Others include, Washington Post columnist Rana Ayyub, London-based Kashmiri human rights activist Muzzammil Ayyub Thakur, and prominent Indian journalist Mohammed Zubair.
On 19 June, I received an email from Twitter saying that it had received a request from the Indian Government, claiming that six of my 70,000 tweets had violated India’s Information Technology Act of 2000. Three days later, I received another email, saying that my account was now being withheld in India, meaning that Indian residents are unable to view any of my past or future posts.
The offending tweets? One linked to an article, saying how “frightening Modi’s India is becoming for 200 million Indian and Kashmiri Muslims”. Another included a video of a Muslim man being beaten and called a “terrorist” while he gave an interview to a local television news reporter. The third condemned the Indian Government for releasing from prison early one of the main culprits responsible for the killing of 2,000 Muslims during the 2002 Gujarat Riots. Another warned that a large-scale Muslim genocide “would make Rwanda, Bosnia and even the Holocaust pale in comparison”. One tweet reported on cases of extrajudicial murder in Indian-administered Kashmir.
None of these tweets constituted a violation of Indian law or Twitter’s user policies.
An official from India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting told the Indian Express that my account has been withheld for “spreading anti-India propaganda”. Meanwhile, Kanchan Gupta, a senior advisor with the ministry, celebrated Twitter’s move by calling me a “hatemonger” and “demented psycho” in a tweet posted on 22 June.
Two days later, Hindu IT Cell, an affiliate of BJP IT Cell – an online propaganda outfit employed by India’s ruling party – boasted: “Finally, after a lot of mass emailing and mass cyber complaints, @cjwerleman’s account has been withheld in India.”
In other words, Twitter, a US-based company, is withholding the account of a US-based journalist because of a campaign waged by the same India-based groups and individuals that human rights experts hold responsible for the year-on-year surge in anti-Muslim violence. This should send a chill down the spine of every journalist and activist.
In recent days, Twitter also sent an email to Washington Post journalist Rana Ayyub, saying that it has now withheld her account in India. Ayyub has long been a thorn in the side of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, having published a book on the anti-Muslim genocide that took place in Gujarat in 2002, when Modi was the state’s chief minister.
If Twitter continues banning those who report state-sanctioned violence to appease illiberal states, then hate crimes, state terrorism and crimes against humanity will be hidden from view – which is what the Indian Government is seeking to do in banning me and others from social media platforms.
This is a shameless effort to silence journalists and activists who report the moral, legal, and ethnical transgressions of an increasingly illiberal and anti-democratic Indian Government, and Twitter is going along for the ride.
The social media platform must know that Indian journalists, protestors and human rights defenders have been the targets of harassment, intimidation, and even violence by the Indian Government and its supporters. It must know that Amnesty International ended its operations in India in 2020 due to a “continuing crackdown” and “harassment” by Modi’s BJP administration.
Last year, authorities in BJP-ruled Tripura state filed ‘terrorism’ charges against me and other journalists who reported a wave of violence committed by Hindu nationalists and other pro-Government supporters against Muslims in the Indian state in November, prompting statements of condemnation from the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
“RSF firmly condemns the charges laid by Tripura Police against several journalists, including Meer Faisal, Shyam Meera Singh, and CJ Werleman, whose only crime was to cover the recent attacks against mosques in the north-eastern state of Tripura,” RSF International said. “Journalism is not a crime.”
But, in siding with the Indian Government, Twitter does not share this view, evidently. Actions taken by the social media company suggest that it does believe journalism can and does constitute criminality when the Indian Government is the target of that journalism. Moreover, it appears that Twitter has learned nothing from the way its rival Facebook was used by the Myanmar military to incite genocide against the country’s Muslim minority, the Rohingya. Facebook now faces compensation claims worth more than £150 billion for failing to prevent the incitement of violence in the Asian country.
In bowing down to demands made by the India Government to silence accounts that expose and report anti-Muslim violence in India, Twitter has made itself complicit in the persecution of Muslims and genocide. If it is seriously committed to free speech, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, it should stand up to such demands, while remembering the words of a former UN deputy secretary-general who partly blamed the Rwandan genocide of 1994 on a lack of international media attention.
The Modi regime is trying to keep the international community in the dark about what is happening in India today. Twitter must help keep the lights on.
This article first appeared on bylinetimes.com