Imagine believing you’re in a haven of free speech, only to wake up to the harsh reality of censorship – not in an authoritarian state, but in the United States. This is the jarring experience we, Rasheed Ahmed of the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) and Sunita Viswanath of Hindus for Human Rights (HFHR), woke up to on October 14. Our organizations’ Twitter accounts had been blocked in India, a chilling example of the Indian government’s growing efforts to silence dissent globally. This move came at the behest of the Indian government, utilizing the nebulous “Information Technology Act of 2000,” a law infamous for its use in muzzling critical voices within India.
For us, who are safely away from the overt persecution many activists in India face, Twitter was a vital tool in our advocacy work, connecting activists and highlighting the human rights violations of the Indian government. The action by Twitter and the Indian government has severely hampered our ability to engage in meaningful advocacy, silencing our dialogue with over 150,000 Indian followers and cutting off our global reach. This is indicative of a larger, more sinister global campaign of political repression, a hallmark of India’s increasingly authoritarian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The aim is clear: suppress all voices of dissent, irrespective of geographical boundaries.
Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist regime is notorious for its extreme measures to muzzle criticism, including alleged assassinations and orchestrated intimidation campaigns against academics and journalists worldwide. Now, Twitter CEO Elon Musk’s platform is playing a pivotal role in this campaign of transnational repression. Under the guise of adhering to local regulations, Musk’s Twitter has become an accomplice in the Indian government’s censorship crusade, deleting content that sheds light on Modi’s controversial past and barring international audiences from crucial information.
Musk, a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist,” argues that Twitter has no choice but to comply with India’s demands. However, this compliance has far-reaching consequences, contributing to a global environment where criticism of the Modi regime is met with fear and self-censorship. For example, in the U.S., the Kashmiri community is already feeling the chilling effects, with many refraining from discussing sensitive issues even in private conversations, fearing surveillance and repercussions.
The irony is stark: under Musk’s leadership, Twitter has reinstated accounts known for spreading anti-Muslim hate, while drastically reducing its capacity to regulate such speech in India, where anti-Muslim propaganda is rampant. This negligence comes at a time when India is responsible for a significant portion of the world’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, a fact that is dangerously overlooked by Musk’s drastic staff cuts in India.
Musk’s actions don’t just affect us; they have implications for the broader fight for free speech and human rights. His reluctance to stand up to the Indian government’s censorship requests, possibly influenced by his business interests in India, is a stark contradiction to the First Amendment values he claims to uphold.
Our plea to Elon Musk is clear: Uphold the principles of free speech you so fervently claim to support. Restore the accounts of all critics suspended by Twitter at the behest of the Indian government. This is more than just a matter of policy or business; it’s about protecting the voices and rights of a diverse global community that relies on platforms like Twitter to speak truth to power. Musk’s complicity in the Indian government’s censorship efforts is a betrayal of these values and a disservice to the very essence of free speech and democracy.