An elite special cell of the capital’s police on Monday visited the offices of Twitter India after the platform flagged a post by a ruling party member as ‘manipulated media,’ leading to a public outcry amidst deepening fears of censorship.
The visit by the special cell of Delhi Police, which is tasked to investigate cases of terrorism, organised crime and other serious offences, has been described by the political opposition and some others on social media as intimidation.
The police, however, found that both the offices were closed as employees were working from home since the pandemic struck last year. However, Delhi Police’s Public Relations Officer (PRO) Chinmoy Biswal maintained that the action was “necessitated as we wanted to ascertain who is the right person to serve a notice, as replies by Twitter India managing director have been very ambiguous,” reported the Indian Express.
The report quoted Delhi police as saying that notice was issued to Twitter after they got complaints from opposition Congress party leaders Rohan Gupta and MV Rajeev Gowda.
The police in India’s national capital works directly under the Indian government’s ministry of home affairs. On Monday, the police teams visited the offices of Twitter India in Delhi and its neighbouring city of Gurugram in the state of Haryana.
Leaders of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had tweeted accusing Congress of being the main architect behind a ‘toolkit’ they said was meant to defame India during the Covid-19 emergency. Congress filed a police complaint against a few BJP leaders for their Twitter posts.
The tweets by BJP leaders were flagged by Twitter as “manipulated media,” that the federal government members reportedly objected to.
Delhi Police, last week, had issued a notice to the Twitter India MD Manish Maheshwari that said: “During the course of investigation, it has come to our knowledge that you (Twitter India) are acquainted with the facts of the matter and are in possession of information with regard to the same.” The statement referred to the toolkit issue.
“You are therefore requested to be present in the office of the undersigned for the purpose of investigation with all the relevant documents on 22 May, 2021 at 1 pm,” the notice said.
Leaders of Congress and other opposition parties criticised the alleged raid, as an attempt to intimidate Twitter.
Rahul Gandhi, a senior member of the Congress party and a legislator, tweeted: “Truth remains unafraid. #Toolkit.”
Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi called raid “hilarious.”
“[Delhi Police], in a reverse gear investigation, instead of raiding the political party office that was caught faking documents, it has chosen to raid Twitter offices seeking proof. Who should be credited for this move? Home Minister or Lt. Governor?” tweeted Ms Chaturvedi.
Prashant Bhushan, a lawyer in the Supreme Court of India and a vocal critic of India’s ruling party, tweeted: “This is the theatre of the absurd! First the BJP fabricates a ‘Toolkit’ in Congress name. Then when Twitter flags it as manipulated, they get the Special Police to raid Twitter. India is fast becoming Alice’s wonderland!”
This is not the first instance of the Indian government and Twitter finding themselves pitched against each other. Earlier, they had locked horns over the issues of farmers’ protests.
The word toolkit gained traction among Indian social media users after 22-year-old climate campaigner Disha Ravi was arrested by the Delhi Police in February this year in a case related to a Google document shared by Greta Thunberg in support of Indian farmers.
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