The Editors Guild of India on Monday said that the “arbitrary suspension” of the social media accounts of several journalists and media organisations in Punjab undermined press freedom.

The Twitter accounts of several Punjab-based journalists and prominent members of the Sikh community were withheld in India last month amid a manhunt by security forces for Khalistan sympathiser Amritpal Singh. On March 27, the official Twitter account of BBC Punjabi was withheld, though it was restored later in the day. Similarly, social media accounts of journalists Kamaldeep Singh Brar, Gagandeep Singh, Sandeep Singh were also among those taken down.

Indian authorities had also asked Twitter to withhold Twitter accounts of Canadian politician Jagmeet Singh, Canadian poet Rupi Kaur and voluntary organisation United Sikhs which has its headquarters in the country.

Freelance journalist Sandeep Singh had told Scroll that he had not received any e-mail from Twitter on why his account was taken down. Singh also said that he had not tweeted anything controversial and was only posting what was already being shown on news channels.

The Editors Guild said it was concerned that no due process was followed in the suspension of the social media handles and that the action was taken against the principles of natural justice. It cited a Supreme Court judgement that had said that all reasonable efforts must be made to identify and notify the people whose information is sought to be blocked before access is restricted, as well as a right to appeal.

“Notwithstanding the fact that some of the accounts were later restored, or for that matter that many of the accounts suspended may not have been that of journalists or those associated with news organisations, the Guild is concerned that under the pretext of maintaining security, the state government’s arbitrary actions undermine press freedom,” the press body said.

It also urged the state and central governments to act with restraint in all such cases, and to adhere to processes laid down by the Supreme Court.

“Currently, the widespread action against journalists and the larger media fraternity has created an atmosphere of fear in Punjab that is not conducive to free and fair journalism,” the Editors Guild said. “We also urge MeitY [Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology] to release all the orders of suspension in the public domain, in the interest of transparency and the spirit of the law.”

Singh, who heads the organisation Waris Punjab De, remains at large over two weeks after the Punjab Police had launched a manhunt to arrest

Last week, he released two video messages in which he appealed to the Akal Takht jathedar to call for a Sarbat Khalsa, a biannual deliberative assembly of the Sikhs, on the harvest festival of Baisakhi on April 14. Akal Takht is the highest temporal seat of Sikhism, and its jathedar or chief is Giani Harpreet Singh.