Once again, the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye is in news for his stand on freedom of expression in Kashmir. This time, he has written a letter to Twitter CEO regarding the blocking of Twitter accounts of Kashmiris and blocking users for sharing or posting Kashmir related content. In the letter, Kaye asked Twitter to provide complete details of the request made by the Indian Government about the withholding of Kashmir content and blockage of Kashmir twitter handles.
Kaye tells Twitter that he is writing (the letter) in connection with information he has received regarding account actions against Twitter users for posting or sharing Kashmir-related content. According to the information received by Kaye, Twitter has withheld users’ tweets and accounts when they have participated in discussions concerning Kashmir on the platform. Kaye tells Twitter that affected users receive notifications that either informs them that their “account [or tweet] has been withheld in India in response to a legal demand.” or that their “account (or tweet) has been withheld … based on local law(S).”
According to Twitter Rules and policies, users receive the former notification if “Twitter was compelled to withhold the original tweet [or account] in response to a valid legal demand, such as a court order.”
Users received the latter notification if Twitter withholds a tweet or account based on local law “in response to a report filed through specific support intake channels.” Affected users include Kashmiri journalists and activists.
According to Twitter’s Removal Requests report, India has made 144 removal requests, of which 800 accounts were specified, from July 2017 to December 2017. The report states that of the 144 removal requests Twitter withheld seventeen accounts and thirty-two tweets in the same period. From January 2017 to June 2017, India made 104 removal requests, but Twitter did not withhold any accounts or tweets during that period. From July to December 2016, India made 96 removal requests, and Twitter again did not withhold any accounts or tweets.
Kaye writes that, “thus from the information received it seems that Twitter may have begun to accede to government demands for content and account removals since July 2017. The reasons for this shift are unclear”.
Kaye writes in his letter that, “India has expanded the scope of its censorship tools and efforts, at the expense of individual rights to freedom of expression, access to information, freedom of association and other fundamental human rights. Indian restrictions put you (Twitter) in the position likely reluctantly of having to mediate between your users, Indian citizens, and Indian law.
Indeed, at the top of the Removal Requests report, Twitter states, “With hundreds of millions of Tweets posted every day around the world, our goal is to respect user expression, while also taking into consideration applicable local laws.”
Kaye told Twitter that it has a responsibility to respect the human rights of its users.
– Shams Irfan