Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi blasts Twitter after account locked

Twitter locked Mr Rahul Gandhi from his account on Aug 7. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - Prime Minister Narendra Modi's main political rival Rahul Gandhi on Friday (Aug 13) accused Twitter Inc of bias and interference in India's politics after the social media giant locked him and his party out of their accounts.

Twitter locked Mr Gandhi from his account on Aug 7 after he tweeted a photograph of him meeting the parents of a nine-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in capital New Delhi. Indian laws prohibit identifying rape victims.

About 5,000 handles linked to his Indian National Congress, including its official account, have also been locked, according to the party.

"This is an attack on the democratic structure of the country," Mr Gandhi said in a video statement.

"A company is making its business to define our politics," he said warning investors that "taking sides in the political contest has repercussions for Twitter".

His party said Twitter didn't lock a government handle that had posted similar information. The party accused the social media company of acting on behalf of the government.

Twitter rules are enforced "judiciously and impartially" for everyone on our service, a spokesperson for the company said in a statement.

"We have taken proactive action on several hundred tweets that posted an image that violated our rules, and may continue to do so in line with our range of enforcement options."

Mr Gandhi's remarks come amid heightened political polarisation in India. Angry arguments between government and opposition lawmakers saw federal Parliament brought to a standstill and finally adjourned, two days ahead of schedule.

The opposition has accused Mr Modi's government of avoiding discussions on the allegations it used Israeli firm NSO Group Ltd's Pegasus spyware to snoop on journalists, politicians and judges.

Opposition legislators have also accused the government of high-handedness.

The Modi government "does not brook dissent" and its "authoritarianism" has led to widespread protests, Ms Mahua Moitra, Member of Parliament from the All India Trinamool Congress, told Bloomberg Television on Friday.

The Prime Minister's Office didn't immediately respond to a text message seeking comments.

The government denied the charge of illegal surveillance and in turn accused opposition parties of disrupting Parliament.

Mr Gandhi's accusations against Twitter also highlight the political risk for tech giants in Asia's third-largest economy.

Twitter has been under the Modi government's scrutiny recently over new Internet rules that require stricter disclosures and compliance and can attract penalties, including possible jail terms.

During its months-long confrontation with the federal government, top Twitter officials including Mr Manish Maheshwari, the managing director of Twitter's India arm, were summoned by the police.

Mr Maheshwari will move to the US to take on a new role within the company, a Twitter representative said by e-mail on Friday. The firm didn't reply to a question about who will replace him.

A federal minister alleged that the company was trying dictate terms to the world's largest democracy.

Tensions appeared to ease this week after the company appointed a permanent chief compliance officer-cum-grievance officer and a nodal officer, in keeping with the new rules.

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