Explained: What emergency powers has India used to block links of BBC’s Gujarat riots documentary?

The Indian government on Friday invoked its emergency powers to direct YouTube and Twitter to remove links of the BBC documentary that revisits Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

It has exercised those powers under the Information Technology Rules, 2021, which have been widely opposed by media organisationsdigital rights activists and social media platforms on the grounds that they enable censorship. The Rules have been challenged in the Supreme Court and various High Courts, where proceedings are currently underway.

This is not the first time that the Centre has invoked these powers. In the past, it has asked YouTube to take down accounts for spreading disinformation. But the latest move has drawn more attention since the target this time is a major international broadcaster.

The BBC documentary

The first episode of the documentary titled India: The Modi Question, which released on January 17, alleged that a team sent by the British government had found that Modi, then the Gujarat chief minister, was “directly responsible for a climate of impunity” that led to the violence against Muslims. While the documentary has not been officially released in India, its pirated versions have been circulating on social media platforms.

The Ministry of External Affairs has alleged that the documentary pushed a discredited narrative.

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