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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Twitter block to road spikes and a train diversion: bid to deter stir

On Monday, around 100 Twitter accounts and 150 tweets related to the farmers’ protests went off the microblogging platform as the IT Ministry directed Twitter to remove these accounts under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act.

Written by Karishma Mehrotra , Sukrita Baruah | New Delhi |
Updated: February 2, 2021 8:17:32 am
farmers protests, farmers protests delhi borders, twitter accounts withheld, internet ban, farmers chakka jam, Farm laws, India news, indian express newsFarmers and their supporters at the Ghazipur border on Jan 30, 2021. (Express Photo By Amit Mehra)

From a temporary freeze on over 100 Twitter accounts seen as sympathetic to the farm protests to embedding spikes on roads, from diverting a Delhi-bound train to extending the internet ban in seven Haryana districts by another day — a slew of measures came into effect Monday in a bid to deter the protests, even as farmers announced a new nationwide ‘chakka jam’ on February 6.

On Monday, around 100 Twitter accounts and 150 tweets related to the farmers’ protests went off the microblogging platform as the IT Ministry directed Twitter to remove these accounts under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. However, by late evening Monday, after a meeting between officials of the microblogging platform and the Ministry, the accounts were “unwithheld” as Twitter held that the accounts and tweets “constitute free speech and are newsworthy”, Twitter sources told The Indian Express.

“Pending our discussions with the regulatory authorities, we temporarily withheld these accounts in India under our Country Withheld Content policy in response to a valid legal request from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. During our subsequent meetings with the officials, Twitter conveyed that the accounts and tweets in question constitute free speech and are newsworthy. Therefore, these tweets and accounts have now been unwithheld. Protecting public conversation and transparency is fundamental to the work we do at Twitter,” said a source at the social media firm.

Earlier in the evening, government sources had told The Indian Express that Twitter tried to “push back”. “Yes, Twitter tried to push back against the order, but we have not changed anything. You can’t write that the PM is carrying out a genocide on farmers and get away with it. Twitter needs to implement this. People can’t go on insulting the Prime Minister of the land like this,” said a government source.

Most of the accounts that were withheld had tweeted with the hashtag #ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide, sources say.

Among the accounts that were suspended include those of Kisan Ekta Morcha and Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), The Caravan magazine, Prasar Bharti CEO Sashi Shekhar Vempati, Aam Aadmi Party MLA Jarnail Singh, CPI(M) leader Md Salim, activist Hansraj Meena, and actor Sushant Singh.

Monday morning also saw more than 2,000 iron nails being embedded in rows across the breadth of Rohtak Road at the Tikri protest side. These nails, hammered in overnight on orders of the Delhi Police, are positioned to puncture tyres of vehicles coming in from the Haryana side, said policemen stationed at the site.

The Delhi side of the border with Haryana has become increasingly fortified, with several layers of security — two heavy layers of metal barricading; a layer of large stone boulders; followed by the row of nails on the road and a layer of concrete barricades. A few metres ahead was another layer of stone boulders, followed by yet another layer of concrete barricades.

At Singhu and Tikri borders too were steel coils, cement barriers and heavy police presence, with farmers claiming the “war-like” preparations were an attempt to scare protesters away and turn locals against them. At both these protest sites, cement was poured in the gaps between the barricades to keep them in place and to ensure tractors do not move out.

Also on Monday, the Punjab Mail was diverted while another train, running via Punjab and Haryana and headed to Old Delhi, was short-terminated at Bahadurgarh. While the Railways called it an “operational necessity”, the move prompted charges that it was done to prevent farmers from reaching Delhi to join the ongoing protests.

PTI reported that the Haryana government on Monday extended till 5 pm on February 2 the suspension of mobile internet services in seven districts of the state “to prevent any disturbance of peace and public order” amid the farmer protests. Mobile internet, bulk SMSes and all dongle services will stay suspended in Kaithal, Panipat, Jind, Rohtak, Charkhi Dadri, Sonipat and Jhajjar districts till 5 pm on February 2.

Meanwhile, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha said national and state highways will be blocked for three hours in areas near the agitation sites as part of a nationwide ‘chakka jam’ on February 6 to protest against the alleged “harassment” meted out to them by authorities.

With Amil Bhatnagar & Ashna Butani in Delhi, and PTI inputs

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