Twitter restores some accounts suspended 'at India's behest'

Islamabad approaches Twitter again for suspending accounts over pro-Kashmir tweets

Waleed Tariq September 03, 2019
Islamabad approaches Twitter again for suspending accounts over pro-Kashmir tweets. PHOTO: REUTERS

KARACHI: Around one fifth of the 200 Pakistani social media handles that posted in support of Kashmir have been restored since the National IT Board (NITB), on behalf of the Pakistan government, approached Twitter, The Express Tribune has learnt.

However, since there was no official response from the tech giant, Islamabad has approached it once again, asking for justification behind its decision to suspend the Pakistani accounts over posts related to the ongoing crisis in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK).

On the request of Indian government and reports from other individuals, as many as 200 Pakistani accounts were suspended for advocating the Kashmir cause since August 5 when New Delhi revoked the IOK's special status.

Kalim Khan's account was suspended on August 16 when he "posted and retweeted three to four tweets on Kashmir using trending hashtags".

His account, Khan said, was restored four days later. However, he claimed, there was no official correspondence from the micro-blogging site.

"I still don't know which specific tweet was the reason [for my account's suspension]," he said, adding that supporting the cause also cost him his blue tick.

Various other accounts including those of journalists and news channels highlighting rights violations in the occupied territory also received warnings.

There were also multiple instances of Twitter users losing a large chunk of their following and diminished reach after returning from similar suspension.

Executive Director NITB Shabahat Ali Shah wrote to the vice president of the Trust and Safety wing of Twitter in mid-August, expressing concern over the suspension of accounts. However, since there was no response except the acknowledgement of the complaint, Pakistan approached the micro-blogging website again, through the Foreign Office on August 30.

"Since the complaint was on behalf of the Government of Pakistan, we have asked Twitter, through the Foreign Office, for a written response," he told The Express Tribune. "We want to know what policy or strategy is there against Pakistan [which has led to the suspension]… this is our grievance, and a response is awaited."

He added, "We have asked them specifically why our accounts are suspended, without any prior warning. Normally, they have an SOP that a warning is issued. The accounts were suspended without warning or prior intimation."

Shah revealed that about 15 to 20 per cent of the suspended accounts had been restored, adding that in case there was no response even this time, Pakistan will consider alternatives.

An official at the Pakistan's Foreign Office confirmed the development, saying, "Yes, we wrote to them. They haven't taken any action yet. We, along with Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) and others, are on it."

Last week, the PTA had also raised the issue, asking Twitter to restore the suspended accounts.

"This action is in violation of the policy and community standards of Twitter, and an attempt to stifle freedom of expression," it had said.

Twitter, meanwhile, rejected bias and declined to comment on individual accounts.

"Twitter exists to serve the public conversation, including in national and regional events of political importance," a spokesperson at Twitter told The Express Tribune.

"We are founded on the principles of free expression and believe people on all sides of an issue have a fundamental right to discuss them within the boundaries of our policies, which prohibit terrorism, hateful conduct, platform manipulation, and abuse. At Twitter no one is above our rules. We enforce our policies judiciously and impartially for all users — regardless of their political beliefs and background."

Bolo Bhi, an advocacy group working in the areas of digital rights and civic responsibility, said Twitter suspends accounts that go against their set of community standards which include hate speech, incitement to violence, terrorism, etc.

"The problem arises when technology companies group pro-Kashmir posts as terrorism when faced with expression that may be supportive of individuals and groups that India designated as terrorists," the group responded to a query sent on Facebook. "It is a perfect [case of] one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter."

"Company policies need to consider nuance of international conflicts before becoming gatekeepers of censorship," it concluded.


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