Ten international non-profit organisations have collectively appealed to Indian government authorities and tech firms to cease the crusade of censorship and surveillance across the nation in dealing with the wave of international criticism for its handling of the ongoing Farmer’s protests.
“The Indian government has taken various measures that violate free expression and privacy rights in response to growing international criticism of its handling of the farmers protests,” Access Now, ARTICLE 19, the Association for Progressive Communications, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Derechos Digitales, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Mnemonic, Reporters Without Borders, and WITNESS expressed.
The open letter began by giving an overview of the ‘toolkit’ case, which led to the arrest of 22-year old climate activist Disha Ravi under charges of sedition. Ravi was accused of making an online ‘toolkit’ to help the protesting farmers, which was consequently shared by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.
The non-profits highlighted that the central government’s clampdown on Ravi and other activists, and their calls to digital media companies like Zoom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc for user information were against the ideals of online freedom and other forms of free speech.
They said, “Revealing protected information of a user exercising their rights to free expression and peaceful assembly would be inconsistent with companies’ responsibilities under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”
Eliška Pírková, a Global Content Governance Lead at Access Now also said that, “What we are witnessing in India, however, is the manipulation and censorship of online spaces stemming from short-sighted regulation aimed at tech giants.”
The open letter also highlighted that the GOI must “stop its campaign to silence criticism and censor information related to protests and democratic opposition.”
It cited the Indian administration’s efforts to shut down the internet at protest sites, preventing journalists from entering the sites, filing arbitrary criminal charges against journalists, using a law to press social media companies to censor critical content, and issuing the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules of 2021, which the groups say “allow greater governmental control over online content, threatens to weaken encryption, and would seriously undermine rights to privacy and freedom of expression online.”