The Indian government on Monday issued orders to withhold nearly 250 URLs, including Twitter accounts and posts, that were running the hashtag #Modiplanningfarmergenocide, people familiar with the matter told Hindustan Times.
The withheld accounts include farmers collective Kisan Ekta Morcha, news outfit Caravan India, actor Sushant, Prasad Bharti CEO Shashi Shekhar, activist Hansraj Meena and former Lok Sabha MP and CPI(M) leader Mohammed Salim.
Officials familiar with the matter said that the blocking of Shashi Shekhar was likely a mistake, as he was the one who drew the government's attention to the issue.
"His account will soon be unblocked," said an official familiar with the matter. "He was the one who drew the government's attention to the hashtag that was being used."
The accounts, said a person familiar with the matter, have been indefinitely withheld.
People familiar with the matter said that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had issued the order under Section 69(A) of the Information Technology Act after it received directions from the Home ministry. "The Home ministry said that the tweets could lead to an adverse law and order situation," said a person familiar with the matter. "The accounts have been withheld to prevent an escalation of violence."
However, a second person said that Twitter was moving to contest the blocks and would let the accounts return to the platform.
"These accounts are accessible outside India," the second person said. "Legal teams are working to contest the order. The accounts are likely to be restored as soon as the meeting of Twitter officials concludes."
The official added that the government had to step in to prevent any incitement to violence. "MHA's agencies looked into the matter and conveyed that the situation had the potential to spiral," said the official. "The accounts were tweeting about an impending farmer genocide. The government can't allow anyone to incite violence."
Under Section 69 (A), the government can suspend accounts that can cause a threat to public order.
The government has been in a face-off with farmers over the three controversial agriculture laws that the latter say will hurt their livelihood and should be repealed. The protests turned violent on Republic Day, with some farmer union members hoisting a religious flag at the Red Fort.
The situation has since been tense at the borders, where the farmer agitation continues. People claiming to be locals last week pelted stones at the farmers, leaving many injured, include police personnel.
Twitter's rules and policies state: "Many countries have laws that may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content. In our continuing effort to make our services available to people everywhere, if we receive a properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time. Transparency is vital to protecting freedom of expression, so we have a notice policy for withheld content. Upon receipt of requests to withhold content, we will promptly notify the affected account holders (unless we are prohibited from doing so e.g. if we receive a court order under seal)."