Amid the crackdown on Amritpal Singh and his organisation Waris Punjab De and the internet ban in Punjab, several Twitter accounts have been withheld in India. The withheld accounts include the Twitter accounts of Canadian politician Jagmeet Singh, poet Rupi Kaur, voluntary organisation United Sikhs, MP from Sangrur Simranjit Singh Mann and at least three prominent Punjab-based journalists.
There have also been restrictions on other social media platforms.
The journalists whose accounts have been withheld are Kamaldeep Singh Brar, a senior staffer with the Indian Express based in Amritsar, and freelance journalists Gagandeep Singh and Sandeep Singh. The Twitter handle of news website Baaz News has also been withheld.
Clicking on their respective Twitter handles leads to a page saying 'Account Withheld - This account has been withheld in Indian in response to a legal demand'.
Such 'demands' mostly come from governments and law enforcement agencies.
Why Have These Accounts Been Withheld?
The reasons for withholding their accounts aren't clear. Both Kamaldeep Brar and Gagandeep Singh are senior journalists who have been closely covering the developments around Amritpal Singh. They were posting timely updates on this story on their Twitter accounts.
Simranjit Singh Mann is known to support Amritpal Singh and has frequently shared a stage with him. Like Amritpal Singh, Mann is also pro-Khalistan and he maintains that he has the constitutional right to advocate for it using peaceful means.
Accounts of advocate Jaspal Singh Manjhpur have been withheld on both Twitter and Facebook. Manjhpur has been fighting several cases of detainees in India.
Journalist Jagdeep Singh Thali's Facebook page is also said to have been taken down.
The Twitter account of Canada-based journalist Gurpreet Singh Sahota, activist Bhavjit Singh who was part of the farmers protest and news portal Anandpur Times have also been blocked.
The Twitter account of US-based anti-Hindutva author Pieter Friedrich has also been withdrawn in India, apparently after he tweeted about Amritpal Singh.
Sources have told The Quint that at least in one case the ban is related to a video that had been shared of the police's chase of Amritpal Singh and his associates. The authorities' exact objection to this video isn't known.
The withholding of the accounts of journalists has sparked condemnation from many of their colleagues, who say that they were only doing their job by reporting on what was developing.
Hindustan Times journalist Parteek Singh Mahal tweeted, "Shockingly, the Twitter handles of Punjab based journalists, who are continuously reporting on #AmritpalSingh incident has been withheld in India. While, there is no unrest in #Punjab on the ground, why authorities want to make it look like turmoil."
The withholding of Simranjit Singh Mann's account is also significant given that this is a rare action against a member of Parliament in India.
Lawmakers from the ruling party in India have escaped such penalties even on making hate remarks, such as this tweet by BJP MLA from Bithoor in Uttar Pradesh threatening Sikhs with violence.
A History of Censorship
There has been a history of social media censorship in Punjab in the past few years. In June last year, Sidhu Moose Wala's song 'SYL' that was released after his death, was banned on YouTube in India.
Soon after that, a number of Sikh-run Twitter handles were withheld - @KisanEktaMorcha and @Tractor2Twitr that were extremely active during the farmers' protest, United Kingdom-based Sikh Press Association (@SikhPA) and @SherePanjabUK and the United States-based Jakara Movement (@JakaraMovement).
In 2020, website Sikh Siyasat and YouTube channels like Akaal Channel, TV84 and KTV were banned.
In 2021, singer JazzyB's Twitter account was banned during the farmers' protest.
More recently, the Twitter account of Khalsia Aid founder Ravi Singh was withheld in India.
According to Parmjeet Singh, editor of Sikh Siyasat, this is a deliberate attempt to silence Sikh voices and spread misinformation.
"We have been saying right from the time Sikh Siyasat was banned that this will begin with alternative media and sooner or later it would affect mainstream media in Punjab as well," he told The Quint.
"The overall aim is to control the spread of genuine information and only promote the government's narrative," he added.