India silencing critics and not releasing real Covid data | Sunday Observer

India silencing critics and not releasing real Covid data

2 May, 2021

Indian social media users have taken to Twitter with desperate pleas for help as the country struggles to cope with record high Covid-19 cases and deaths. But Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Government has been accused of attempting to control the narrative with legal orders to delete Twitter posts critical of its response.

On April 21, when Mirza Saaib Beg received an email from Twitter informing him “in the interest of transparency” that the social media company had received a demand from the Indian Government to take down his post on the Covid- 19 crisis, the Oxford University student was not unduly concerned.

A lawyer hailing from India’s disputed Kashmir region, Beg is currently enrolled in a postgraduate public policy programme at Oxford, and is familiar with legal intricacies.

“I didn’t respond because they were just informing me, they didn’t say they were taking down the tweet,” he said. “At that point, I found it perplexing that in the thick of such a massive crisis, the Indian government had assigned manpower to look at my tweet.”

The collapse of the country’s health system has sparked scenes of unimaginable devastation in the nation’s capital, New Delhi, overwhelming medical facilities and supplies. Foreign aid to help India cope with the crisis began arriving on Tuesday, with crates of ventilators and oxygen concentrators from Britain unloaded at the city’s airport.

France is sending oxygen generators able to provide 250 patients with a year’s supply of the gas, according to the French embassy in India.

Amid criticisms of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handling of the crisis, the official attention paid to Beg’s Twitter account, with just over 5,500 followers, was startling.

But in the next few days, Beg received a series of Twitter emails followed by a notification over the weekend that the social media company had complied with New Delhi’s requests to make his post invisible inside India. The Indian Government’s demand to Twitter accused Beg of violating the country’s Information Technology Act, 2000 although no charges were filed.

The situation had become more serious. “I don’t know what they’re trying to prove,” said Beg in a phone interview with FRANCE 24. “I’m a masters student, I don’t have a massive Twitter following. My Twitter feed is not a cause of concern for the government. At a time when manpower is needed to handle a colossal crisis, the fact that someone took the time for this reveals a shocking level of callousness.”

Beg was one of dozens of people – including opposition politicians, filmmakers, activists and authors – targeted for their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts as India’s Covid-19 crisis spirals into a political battle.

The Indian Government’s attempt to control the narrative on social media is particularly troubling in a country where Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has “increased pressure on the media to toe the Hindu nationalist government’s line”, resulting in India’s slide to 142 out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

Meanwhile, Indian scientists appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to publicly release virus data that would allow them to save lives as Coronavirus cases climbed again Friday, prompting the Army to open its hospitals in a desperate bid to control a massive humanitarian crisis.

With 386,452 new cases, India now has reported more than 18.7 million since the pandemic began, second only to the United States. The Health Ministry on Friday also reported 3,498 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 208,330. Experts believe both figures are an under count, but it’s unclear by how much.

India’s pandemic response has been marred by insufficient data and the online appeal, signed by over 350 scientists Friday afternoon, asks the Indian Government to release data about the sequencing of virus variants, testing, recovered patients and how people were responding to vaccines. - Courtesy Yahoo News