Congress leader Pawan Khera on Sunday sent a legal notice to Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and social media platform Twitter for taking down his April 12 tweet on the surge of Covid-19 cases. The tweet had questioned the “complete silence” of the Union government in allowing the Kumbh Mela and election rallies to take place despite the worsening coronavirus situation in India.
Twitter has reportedly removed 52 posts from its platform after the Narendra Modi government claimed they were spreading “fake news” about its handling of the pandemic and sent legal request to the platform to withhold some of the tweets. The majority of these tweets were critical of the Centre’s handling of the crisis as the second wave in India has led to states grappling with shortages of hospital beds, oxygen, medicines and vaccine doses.
Apart from Khera’s tweet, posts by Congress MP Revanth Reddy, West Bengal minister Moloy Ghatak, actor Vineet Kumar Singh, filmmakers Vinod Kapri and Avinash Das were also blocked. These tweets will, however, be accessible to social media users outside India.
Khera, in his legal notice sent via advocate Karan Sharma, said withholding his tweet is “nothing more than the abuse of regulatory power” and called the move as an attempt to “scuttle the voice of opposition”.
“My client also questioned the double standards of public criticism of Tabligh[i] Jamaat people who were blamed for spreading coronavirus last year but maintenance of complete silence of the government and people on huge gatherings at Kumbh Mela in Haridwar,” the notice said.
Khera’s lawyer said his client’s tweet did not violate Twitter’s rules and asked Prasad to uphold his duties as a minister of Electronics and Information Technology by immediately restoring the post.
“Withdraw any and all such directions issued by the government of India to Twitter Inc, which abrogate the Freedom of Speech and Personal Liberty which are guaranteed by the Constitution of India to its citizens,” the notice added. The advocate also urged Prasad to restrain Twitter from initiating further action in the matter.
The Modi government has been severely criticised as India is scrambling to contain the surging coronavirus infections. On Sunday, the country set another world record in new Covid cases for the fourth straight day, with 3.49 lakh infections. Opposition leaders and medical experts have questioned the lack of preparation since the first wave peaked in September.
In February, at the height of the farmers’ protest against three new agriculture laws, Twitter had withheld several accounts, including those of Caravan magazine and Kisan Ekta Morcha, an umbrella body of the protesters. The accounts were however, restored hours later. Twitter had said its action was in response to a legal demand.
Days later, the Centre had directed Twitter to block nearly 1,200 accounts with suspected links to Khalistan sympathisers or Pakistan. The government had said these accounts were causing a threat to public order amid the farmers’ protest.