India tries to block clips, screenings of BBC’s ‘Modi Question’ documentary : NPR
NEW DELHI — Days after India blocked a BBC documentary examining Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role during 2002 anti-Muslim riots and barred people from sharing it online, authorities are scrambling to stop screening the program at colleges and universities and restricting its footage on social media, a move that has been condemned by critics as an attack on press freedom.
Tensions rose in the capital, New Delhi, on Wednesday at Jamia Millia University, where a group of students said they planned to screen the banned documentary, prompting dozens of police equipped with tear gas. -tears and riot gear are collected outside the campus gates.
Police, some in plain clothes, went out with protesting students and detained at least half a dozen, who were taken away in a van.
“This is the time for young Indians to put the truth that everyone knows. We know what the prime minister is doing to society,” said Liya Shareef, 20, a geography student and member of the group – Fraternity Movement students.
Jawaharlal Nehru University in the capital cut off electricity and internet on its campus on Tuesday before the documentary was scheduled to be shown by a student union. Authorities said it would disrupt peace on campus, but students nevertheless watched the documentary on their laptops and cellphones after sharing it on messaging services such as Telegram and WhatsApp.
The documentary caused a storm in other Indian universities as well.
Authorities at the University of Hyderabad, in southern India, launched an investigation after a group of students screened the banned documentary earlier this week. In the southern state of Kerala, workers from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party staged demonstrations on Tuesday after some student groups affiliated with rival political parties defied the ban and screened the programme.
The two-part documentary “India: The Modi Question” was not broadcast in India by the BBC, but India’s federal government blocked it over the weekend and banned people from sharing clips on the media. social, citing emergency powers under its information technology laws. Twitter and YouTube complied with the request and removed many links to the documentary.
The first part of the program, released last week by the BBC for its audiences in the United Kingdom, evokes the most controversial episode of Modi’s political career when he was the chief minister of the state of western Gujarat in 2002. It focuses on anti-Muslim riots in which more than 1,000 people were killed.
The riots have been haunting Modi because of allegations that the authorities under his watch allowed and even encouraged the bloodshed. Modi denied the charges, and the Supreme Court said it found no evidence to prosecute him. Last year, the country’s highest court dismissed a petition filed by a Muslim victim questioning Modi’s exoneration.
The first part of the BBC documentary relies on interviews with victims of the riots, journalists and rights activists, who say Modi looked the other way during the riots. It cites, for the first time, a secret British diplomatic investigation which concluded that Modi was “directly responsible” for the “climate of impunity”.
The documentary includes the testimony of the then British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who says that the British investigation found that the violence by Hindu nationalists aimed to “eliminate Muslims from the Hindu areas” and that it had the “characteristics of ethnic cleansing”.
Suspicions that Modi quietly supported the riots led the US, UK and EU to deny him a visa, a move that has since been reversed.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs last week called the documentary “a piece of propaganda designed to push a particularly discredited narrative” that lacks objectivity, slamming it for “prejudice” and “a continuing colonial mentality. ” Kanchan Gupta, a senior adviser at the government’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, denounced it as “anti-India rubbish.”
The BBC said in a statement that the documentary was “rigorously researched” and involved a wide range of voices and opinions.
“We offered the Indian Government a right to respond to the issues raised in the series – it refused to respond,” the statement said.
The second part of the documentary, released Tuesday in the UK, “examines the record of the Narendra Modi government following his re-election in 2019,” according to the film’s description on the BBC website.
In recent years, India’s Muslim minority has been on the receiving end of violence from Hindu nationalists, fueled by a prime minister who has largely remained mum on such attacks since he was first elected in 2014. .
The ban provoked a wave of criticism from the opposition parties and from the rights groups who stressed it as an attack against the freedom of the press. It also drew more attention to the documentary, prompting scores of social media users to share clips on WhatsApp, Telegram and Twitter.
“You can ban, you can suppress the press, you can control the institutions … but the truth is the truth. It has a nasty habit of coming out,” said Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Congress party in opposition, to reporters at a news conference Tuesday.
Mahua Moitra, a lawmaker from the Trinamool Congress political party, on Tuesday tweeted a new link to the documentary after an earlier one was removed. “Good, bad, or ugly – we decide. The Government does not tell us what to see,” said Moitra in her tweet, which was still up on Wednesday morning.
Human Rights Watch said the ban reflected a wider crackdown on minorities under Modi’s government, which the rights group said often invoked draconian laws to stoke criticism.
Critics say press freedom in India has declined in recent years and the country fell eight places, to 150 out of 180 countries, in last year’s Press Freedom Index was published by Reporters Without Borders. He accuses the Modi government of stifling criticism on social media, particularly on Twitter, a charge that senior ruling party leaders have denied.
The Modi government has regularly pressured Twitter to restrict or ban content it deems critical of the prime minister or his party. Last year, he threatened to arrest Twitter staff in the country because of their refusal to ban accounts run by critics after it implemented new regulations for technology companies and social media.
The ban on the BBC documentary follows a government proposal to give powers to the Press Information Office and other “fact-checking” agencies to remove news deemed to be “false or false” from digital platforms.
The Editors Guild of India urged the government to withdraw the proposal, saying such a change would amount to censorship.