Twitter has been accused of censoring the prominent Indian journalist Salil Tripathi by suspending his account, after he tweeted on subjects including the anniversary of the demolition of the Babri mosque and his work on India’s shrinking democratic space.
Writers including Salman Rushdie and Amitav Ghosh expressed anger after Tripathi, who is chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, had his Twitter account suspended on Sunday without warning.
A rightwing Hindu nationalist group called Deshi Army, which has 26,000 followers on Twitter, claimed victory after the suspension. Deshi Army was recently praised online by Kapil Mishra, a hardline leader from India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), who said: “This team is doing amazing work” in targeting critics of the government online.
Tripathi, who was born in Mumbai but lives in Singapore, is a writer for various publications and a contributing editor for the Indian publications Mint and the Caravan, and often critiques Hindu nationalism. He has written a book about its implications for freedom of expression in India and most recently wrote a piece for Foreign Policy magazine titled Why India has Become a Different Country, about the erosion of democracy under the BJP government.
Sunday was the anniversary of the demolition of the Babri mosque, a Muslim mosque that was torn to the ground by a Hindu nationalist mob in 1992. Tripathi posted a video on Twitter of him reading his own poem about the demolition, and tweeted about a forthcoming work about the state of democracy in India.
His account was suspended shortly afterwards, to the outrage of some of India’s most well-known writers, lawyers and journalists. Rushdie tweeted:
Ghosh wrote that he was “beyond astonished to learn that Salil Tripathi’s Twitter account has been suspended. Salil is an outstanding journalist, writer and human rights activist.”
The writer Nilanjana Roy tweeted: “Why has Salil Tripathi’s Twitter account been suspended? Earlier today, he’d tweeted about the demolition of the Babri Masjid, expressing the continuing anguish many also feel – hope Twitter India will restore his voice soonest.” Suketu Mehta, also an author, said Tripathi was “one of our most important human rights activists. Absolutely unacceptable for Twitter India to suspend his account. India needs Salil’s voice!”
Shashi Tharoor, a politician for the opposition Congress party, also expressed concern. “I can’t believe this,” he wrote. “How on earth could Twitter suspend the account of a highly respected writer, author and human rights activist? Do their algorithms have no human being applying common sense before undertaking such actions?”
A statement from Twitter said Tripathi’s account “has been temporarily suspended for publishing a list that violates our abusive behaviour policy”.