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‘Outright lie’: India denies threatening to shut down Twitter

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By Kanishka Singh and Shilpa Jamkhandikar

WASHINGTON/NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India threatened to shut Twitter down unless it complied with orders to restrict accounts, co-founder Jack Dorsey said, an accusation the Indian government dismissed as an “outright lie”.

Dorsey, who quit as Twitter CEO in 2021, said on Monday that India threatened the company with a shutdown and raids on employees if it did not comply with government requests to take down posts and restrict accounts that were critical of the government over protests by farmers in 2020 and 2021.

“It manifested in ways such as: ‘We will shut Twitter down in India’, which is a very large market for us; ‘we will raid the homes of your employees’, which they did; And this is India, a democratic country,” Dorsey said in an interview with YouTube news show Breaking Points.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has repeatedly denied engaging in online censorship and said on Tuesday that Dorsey’s assertions were an “outright lie”.

“No one went to jail nor was Twitter ‘shut down’. Dorsey’s Twitter regime had a problem accepting the sovereignty of Indian law,” Deputy Minister for Information Technology Rajeev Chandrashekhar said in a post on Twitter.

The protests by farmers over agricultural reforms went on for a year and were among the biggest faced by the government of Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The farmers ended the protests in late 2021 after winning concessions.

“India is a country that had many requests of us around the farmers protest, around particular journalists that were critical of the government,” Dorsey said.

The Indian government says it only aims to restrict misinformation and posts that curb peace and security.

During the protests, Modi’s government sought an “emergency blocking” of the “provocative” Twitter hashtag “#ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide” and dozens of accounts.

Twitter initially complied but later restored most of the accounts, citing “insufficient justification” to continue the suspensions.

Dorsey also mentioned similar pressure from governments in Turkey and Nigeria, which had restricted the platform in their nations at different points over the years before lifting those bans.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington, Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai and Aditya Kalra in New Delhi; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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