India 'took its eye off the ball with coronavirus' says expert
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Appearing on last night’s episode of BBC Newsnight, BJP’s national spokesman, Gopal Agarwal, accused people of creating “panic out of the crisis”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP Government has been accused of censorship by ordering social media sites to block posts critical of its handling of the spike in coronavirus cases and deaths.
On Saturday, Twitter said it took down dozens of tweets in India that were critical of the government’s recent pandemic response.
Emily Maitlis, host of the programme, cited multiple examples of MPs and journalists in India criticising the Government for its Covid response which in posts removed from social media.
In response, Mr Agarwal said: “Your information is completely incorrect.
“One thing I’ll tell you is that there were many instances, of which have been pointed out by the Government, where the same words, the same sentences and the same multiple sentences were being copied and transmitted and tweeted from different (accounts).”
Ms Maitlis interjected to question the spokesman on how “you can handle criticism, can’t you?”
Mr Agarwal continued to say Ms Maitlis does not have “the right perspective” and suggested the removal of the posts was because they violated India’s laws on social media.
He told the programme: “In every country, Twitter and others have to comply (with the Government), and all social platforms have to comply with the rules and regulations of the content by the country.
“When our Government pointed out these Twitter handles, all those toolkit instruments which are not conducive to the current national interest and which are completely based on fake news, and with an agenda, those which that Twitter and other social media agreed (have been removed).
“We have received this, we have an independent judiciary. If somebody has any objection to central Government or any Government, they can go to the court.”
In a heated moment, Ms Maitlis asked: “Is it unpatriotic to criticise the Indian Government?”
Mr Agarwal responded: “If you make a concerted effort, and take fake news and false narration, and build that and create panic out of the crisis, every government has a right to control the panic.”
It follows reports of the Government ordering social media companies to block social media posts about its handling of Covid, often made by senior opposition politicians and journalists.
India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said in a statement on Monday: “Certain people are misusing social media to create panic in society.”
Apar Gupta, executive director of New Delhi-based digital-rights organization Internet Freedom Foundation, said the social media materials appeared to be blocked under section 69A of India’s Information Technology Act.
The law allows New Delhi to block material that threatens national security.
He told the Wall Street Journal: “Our main concern is the secrecy in the censorship.
“Any legal order for directing blocking of websites should contain reasoning and be made public.
“Neither of these steps are being carried out right now.”
As of yesterday, India has administered at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine to around 8.5 percent of its population.
According to the World Health Organisation, 130,027,370 vaccine doses have been administered in India as of April 20.
Yesterday saw another 362,902 new cases and 3,285 new deaths recorded, marking the seventh day in a row cases reached over 300,000.
In total, India has suffered 17,988,637 cases, the second most in the world, and 201,165 deaths, the fourth highest worldwide.
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