India on war footing with Sikh social media, says reports

Social media posts deemed critical of India or supportive of separatist movements are reported for removal and in some cases, lead to individuals being detained and charged for terrorism related offences. - Enforcing Silence: India’s War on Sikh Social Media

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By Asia Samachar Team | CANADA |

Sikhs expressing their views on Khalistan on the social media are more and more becoming targets of the Indian government.

The Indian authorities are increasingly using social media to target and prosecute Sikhs and members of other minority communities who advocate on human rights and political issues, according to a newly released report by a Canada-based Sikh organistion.

“Social media posts deemed critical of India or supportive of separatist movements are reported for removal and in some cases, lead to individuals being detained and charged for terrorism related offences. In particular, Sikhs expressing support for Khalistan are being targeted,” according to the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) report.

The 11-page report, “Enforcing Silence: India’s War on Sikh Social Media”, examines recent developments and offers suggestions to social media platforms with respect to Sikh content.

It noted that since June 2020, hundreds of Sikhs have been detained and interrogated in India due to their social media activities and some have been charged with offences related to support for Khalistan under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

The report lists out more than a dozen incidents where the Indian authorities had targetted Sikhs for their social media entries.

Citing one example, in February 2019, an 18-year-old boy was detained after he liked a poem on Facebook promoting Khalistan.

The Indian authorities released the youth in exchange for a written apology and deactivation of his Facebook account, it cited a report in the Times of India. The authorities were said to be searching for the people who had shared the post.

The report comes on the heel of the blocking of the #Sikh hashtag on Facebook and Instagram, two of the largest social media platforms. The incident came to light in early June during the run-up to the anniversary of the Indian army assault on the most popular Sikh religious centre in Amritsar in 1984.

At the same time, a number of Sikh platforms, including independent media channel Akaal Channel, was blocked on Facebook and Youtube for viewers in India.

FLAGGING SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT

The newly released report noted that social media content that India deems offensive, particularly in relation to Khalistan, is being reported and flagged for removal on a wide scale.

“Khalistan refers to a sovereign state governed in accordance with Sikh principles and values. Khalistan is a construct that is understood in different ways and is a source of robust discourse and debate amongst Sikhs worldwide. ‘

“Discussing or promoting Khalistan is within recognized freedoms of expression and political discourse and should not be confused with extremism or terrorism,” it noted.

However, it added that the Indian authorities were attempting to marginalise and repress dissenting voices through draconian anti-terror laws such as the UAPA.

“Legitimate political expression that India finds objectionable or threatening is branded as extremism and those expressing such views are targeted by the State,” it said.

In a statement, WSO president Tejinder Singh Sidhu said India was attempting to silence dissenting voices and censor Sikh social media content.

The Report concludes with the following recommendations to social media platforms:

  • social media platforms establish a dialogue with the WSO and other Sikh stakeholders to identify Sikh historical figures being reported for censorship by Indian authorities and to better understand issues such as Khalistan and 1984;
  • social media platforms consider whether providing assistance to Indian investigations involving Khalistan or other political advocacy online is based on actual criminal activity or the suppression of dissenting voices;
  • where the disclosure of information that would result in a substantial risk of mistreatment of an individual, social media platforms not share information;
  • where content is restricted, there must be a clear mechanism within social media platforms to appeal the decision and have it reviewed by a human moderator well versed in the nuances of this topic.

RELATED STORY:

Indian intelligence use money, disinformation to influence Canadian politics – Report (Asia Samachar, 18 April 2020)

India disrupts Akaal Channel (Asia Samachar, 6 June 2020)

Overplaying the Khalistan card (Asia Samachar, 21 Feb 2018)

Two Indian magazines and how they treat Sikh related stories (Asia Samachar, 11 Feb 2018)

 

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