Pop star Rihanna and environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg are putting global attention on the fight by Indian farmers against the government’s new agriculture laws, shining a spotlight on its suspension of internet services at protest sites around New Delhi.
“Why aren’t we talking about this?! #FarmersProtest,” Rihanna tweeted to her more than 100 million followers, linking to an article about the communications crackdown. By Wednesday her tweet had been liked by more than 391,000 people and shared nearly 200,000 times.
India's government fortified Delhi's borders and sought to block the Twitter accounts of key protest leaders and journalists, after farmers' unions called for roads throughout India to be blocked on Saturday in their latest protest against the new laws, as well as the crackdown against protesters and reduced farm sector allocation in the annual budget announced on Monday.
With 8,927 hours of blacked out or curbed bandwidth access, the Indian government restricted internet use more than any other nation in 2020, according to the Global Cost of Internet Shutdowns report.
Ms Thunberg tweeted her support for the demonstrators: “We stand in solidarity with the #FarmersProtest in India.”
At least 122 people were arrested in the Indian capital before the latest demonstrations and after clashes on January 26 when thousands of protesters entered New Delhi for a tractor rally, Delhi Police said.
Police investigations are under way against several journalists and opposition politician Shashi Tharoor for tweets about the police response to that violence.
About 250 Twitter accounts, including those belonging to the news magazine The Caravan and other journalists and activists, were blocked for several hours on Monday over claims they spread rumours about the protests.
The handles, restricted "in response to a valid legal request from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology" were later restored because they constitute "free speech and are newsworthy", Twitter said.
Police erected concrete barricades, spread concertina wire and hammered long metal spikes into the ground at key protests sites on the outskirts of the capital where tens of thousands of farmers have gathered since late November. Internet connections were also suspended for prolonged periods of time on police orders.