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Centre blocks ‘SFJ-linked’ Punjab Politics TV’s apps, website, social media accounts

The I&B Ministry said that it has “ordered blocking of apps, website, and social media accounts of foreign-based ‘Punjab Politics TV’ having close links with Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), an organisation that has been declared unlawful under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967”.

Written by Krishn Kaushik | New Delhi |
Updated: February 23, 2022 2:24:55 am
The I&B Ministry had started using the emergency powers it gained under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, in December 2021. (Express File Photo)

Once again relying on intelligence inputs and invoking the emergency powers it was given under the new Information Technology Rules issued last year, the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) has banned the digital media resources of foreign-based ‘Punjab Politics TV’, which it said is linked to the proscribed Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) outfit, and was trying to disturb the public order during the ongoing Legislative Assembly Elections.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the I&B Ministry said that it has “ordered blocking of apps, website, and social media accounts of foreign-based ‘Punjab Politics TV’ having close links with Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), an organisation that has been declared unlawful under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967”.

The ministry said, “Relying on intelligence inputs that the channel was attempting to use online media to disturb public order during the ongoing State Assembly Elections, the Ministry used emergency powers under the IT Rules on 18th February to block the digital media resources of ‘Punjab Politics TV’.”

“The contents of the blocked apps, website and social media accounts had the potential to incite communal disharmony and separatism; and were found to be detrimental to the sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the State, and public order. It was also observed that the launch of new apps and social media accounts was timed to gain traction during the ongoing elections,” the ministry added.

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It said that the government remains “vigilant and committed to secure the overall information environment in India and thwart any actions having the potential to undermine India’s sovereignty and integrity.”

The government had issued orders to ban the pro-Khalistani SFJ under the UAPA in January 2019, which was challenged in the court. But a UAPA tribunal upheld the ban in 2020.

The SFJ was in news ahead of voting in Punjab over the weekend, after Kumar Vishwas, a former Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader, alleged that AAP convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had links to Khalistani elements. Following this, both the Congress and the BJP alleged that Kejriwal and the AAP had the SFJ’s support with Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi producing an apparent letter from the SFJ’s legal advisor. Home Minister Amit Shah responded that the alleged links would be investigated.

The I&B Ministry had started using the emergency powers it gained under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, in December 2021, when it blocked 20 YouTube channels and two websites after receiving intelligence inputs. On January 21, based on intelligence inputs again, the ministry issued a second round of orders blocking 35 more channels on YouTube, which it said had over 100 crore views and were all based in Pakistan and were involved in spreading “anti-India fake news”.

It had also issued orders to block two websites, two Twitter, two Instagram and one Facebook accounts, in January.

I&B Secretary Apurva Chandra had said after issuing the January orders, that the ministry had acted swiftly after receiving inputs from intelligence agencies. However, he said not all YouTube channels or social media accounts flagged by the agencies were blocked, and the ministry had vetted the content of those channels and accounts. Further, ministry officials had said that the orders would later be placed in front of the inter-departmental committee, which is mandated to approve such orders first unless emergency powers are used.

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