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India Orders Social Media Companies To Block Posts Criticizing Its COVID Response

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  • The Indian government ordered Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to block about 100 posts on Sunday that criticized the country’s handling of recent COVID-19 surges.
  • All three companies reportedly complied, though Twitter said the posts were only blocked in India and remain visible to the rest of the world.
  • Government officials claimed the content was creating “panic,” but many have condemned the move as censorship, noting that numerous posts, including some from opposition leaders and journalists, simply expressed critical opinions of Prime Minister Modi’s response to the surge.
  • On Monday, India reported more than 350,000 new infections and 2,800 deaths, breaking the world record of daily infection rates for the fifth day in a row.

Modi Takes on Social Media Criticism Amid COVID Surge

India’s government ordered Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to block about 100 social media posts Sunday that were critical of its handling of COVID-19 surges in the country.

The coronavirus situation in India has become increasingly dire in recent weeks. On Monday, the country reported more than 350,000 new infections and 2,800 deaths, breaking the world record of daily infection rates for the fifth day in a row.

India currently makes up for nearly half of all new cases in the entire world, and even then, experts warn that the numbers are almost certainly undercounted.

The surge has also put a massive strain on the country’s hospital system, with many running low on beds, oxygen, and supplies. Also on Sunday, the Biden administration partially lifted its ban on exporting raw materials for vaccines to send India therapeutics, as well as other materials like rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators, and protective gear.

While the spikes are partly due to the spread of a new variant, many people have also criticized the response from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, including some whose posts his government ordered the social media platforms remove.

According to reports, all three platforms are currently enforcing the legally binding order, though, Facebook has refused to comment on the situation. Twitter, for its part, confirmed it had removed some of the tweets, but said they are only blocked in India and will still be visible in other parts of the world.

In a statement to the media, Indian officials said the posts were creating “panic” by “using unrelated, old and out of the context images or visuals, communally sensitive posts and misinformation about Covid-19 protocols.” 

Censorship Allegations

Numerous social media users, however, accused the government of censorship, noting that much of the content was critical of Modi, including some posts shared by opposition leaders.

According to Lumen Database, which tracks takedown requests, at least 52 tweets from prominent figures including politicians in opposition parties, journalists, and even filmmakers have been removed.

While some of those posts did have potentially misleading information, others just documented the scale of the surge or expressed anger at India’s leaders.

This decision will likely raise concerns about the relationship between social media companies and leaders in countries that compose major client bases. India is a key growth market for tech companies — Facebook has more users in India than anywhere else in the world, and the country is also Twitter’s fastest-growing market. 

This latest action from the Modi government also comes at a time when experts say his party has been increasingly censoring dissent, which creates a sticky situation for social media companies that goes beyond questions of moral dilemmas and free speech.

“In India, the companies face a stark choice: follow laws and risk suppressing political debate, or ignore them and face harsh punishments, including prison time for local employees, in a potentially huge growth market,” The New York Times explained. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)

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First Person Charged Under Hong Kong National Security Law Found Guilty of Terrorism and Inciting Secession

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Dozens more are awaiting trial for breaking the controversial National Security Law, which is aimed at protecting Chinese sovereignty at the cost of basic freedoms within Hong Kong.


First Conviction Under National Security Law

The first person to be charged under Hong Kong’s extremely controversial National Security Law was found guilty of his crimes Tuesday morning.

A judge ruled that Tong Ying-kit was guilty of both terrorism and inciting secession after the 24-year-old failed to stop at a police checkpoint while on his motorcycle last July, which resulted in him eventually riding into police. At the same time, he was carrying a flag that said “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times.”

According to Justice Esther Toh, that phrase alone was capable of inciting others to commit succession, she also that added that Tong understood that the flag had secessionist meaning in an effort to set aside doubts that Tong understood the flag’s inherent meaning.

Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director said,“The conviction of Tong Ying-kit is a significant and ominous moment for human rights in Hong Kong.”

“Today’s verdict underlines the sobering fact that expressing certain political opinions in the city is now officially a crime, potentially punishable by life in jail,” she added.

More Convictions Expected Sparking Fear Over Erosion of Rights

A long string of convictions will likely follow Tong’s, as over 100 people have been arrested under the ambiguous law that criminalizes many forms of freedom of expression under the guise of protecting Chinese sovereignty. Of those arrested, 60 are currently awaiting trial, including dozens of pro-democracy politicians who have been accused of subversiveness for their calls to block the government’s agenda in the legislature.

That has drawn particular concern among international critics who fear the precedent that will be set once it’s clear to politicians that failing to rubber-stamp the Communist Party’s agenda will result in prison terms.

It’s widely expected that as more people are found guilty, the few remaining protections of the city’s Basic Law, a British common law-inspired mini-constitution, will be completely eroded.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (BBC)

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Tunisian President Fires Prime Minister, Suspends Parliament Over Deadlock and COVID-19 Response

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President Kais Saied claims his actions are constitutional and have the support of the military, which has already blocked off government buildings. His opponents, however, call the move little more than a coup.


President Makes Massive Changes to Government

Tunisia’s government received a major shakeup after President Kais Saied fired the Prime Minister and froze parliament late Sunday.

The move, according to Saied, was meant to break years of parliamentary deadlock between Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and various political parties that have sturggled to find common ground. However, the timing comes just after a massive protest over how the government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic turned violent earlier on Sunday.

Either way, the move risks sparking a confrontation between Saied —who is backed by the army — and various political parties that view his actions as a coup.

The President’s actions have proven cotnroversial. Despite that, he has widepsread support after being elected in 2019 on a platform to fight corrupt politicians.

After the announcement, tens of thousands have taken to the streets in support of his decision to dismiss the Prime Minister and parliament, with many cheering as he appeared among the crowd Sunday night.

In recent months, anger at the ruling government has only increased as many feel the ruling coalition, largely made up of the Islamist Ennahda (“Renaissance”) party, have been ineffective.

It’s a common belief in Tunisia that Ennahda’s rule, alongside its tenuous coalition, helped exacerbate problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the economy shrinking by 8% as tourism plummeted.

One of the President’s supporters told Reuters and other outlets during Sunday’s demonstration, “We are here to protect Tunisia. We have seen all the tragedies under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

He mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood, which had a strong presence in Egpyt after the Arab Spring, becuase Ennahda has longstanding relationship with the group, although it has sought to distance itself as a more moderate political group over the last few years.

Now, for their part, the ruling coalition has argued that Saied’s move is clearly unconstitutional. Rached Ghannouchi, leade of Ennahda and Parliamentary Speaker, said that he is “against gathering all powers in the hands of one person.” His position isn’t without supporters eithers. Both sides have already gathered throughout the capital and have thrown rocks at each other.

Legalities of Article 80

The question across many minds is whether or not Saied’s actions are actually constitutional.

He claims that under Article 80 of the constitution, he can fire the Prime Minister, suspend parliament for 30 days, and appoint a premier to rule — all of which is true.

However, in order to do that, the Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Speaker need to be consulted; something Parliamentary Speaker Ghannouchi said was never done. It’s unclear what Mechichi’s position is as he’s stayed inside his home all day, though the army says he is not under any kind of arrest.

In addition to those requirements, a Constitutional Court needs to approve the move, and one hasn’t been set up. As the German Foregin Office put it on Monday morning, it seems like Saied is relying on “a rather broad interpretation of the constitution.”

International observers hope a solution will soon be made to keep what seems to be the last functional democracy to come from the Arab Spring from devolving into civil war or dictatorship.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (BBC)

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South Korean President Makes BTS Official Presidential Envoys

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The position is largely ceremonial but will be used by the government to help give a friendly and popular face to national and international initiatives spearheaded by Seoul.


Government Recognition

The K-pop band BTS will be adding to its list of global impacts this year after South Korean President Moon Jae-in appointed its members as Presidential Envoys on Wednesday.

The role will include attending international conferences such as the United Nations General Assembly in September.

At these events, BTS will perform “various activities to promote international cooperation in solving global challenges, such as improving the environment, eliminating poverty and inequality, and respecting diversity,” according to Park Kyung-mee, a Blue House spokesperson.

The band has already appeared at U.N. conferences multiple times over the last few years.

Just last year, the group gave a message of hope and reassurance through the U.N. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior appearances at the U.N. have been either as part of U.N. organizations or as private citizens.

Wednesday’s appointment will make them official representatives of South Korea, although they won’t actually engage in any direct diplomacy and instead will be used to promote the country’s ongoing efforts in youth-related projects.

Longstanding Policy

BTS’ success, alongside prior and current K-pop groups, has remained a masterclass of soft diplomacy by the Korean government. For decades, the Korean government has cultivated promoting cultural aspects abroad in the hopes of generating more interest in the country. There are hopes that such efforts will encourage more tourism as well as an elevated image when consumers consider Korean-made products.

Such efforts, beyond cultivating K-pop and raising its stars as semi-official government symbols, also include helping fund Korean restaurants abroad as well as free Korean-language classes taught by Professors of some of Korea’s most prestigious schools.

The news comes as BTS’ newest single, “Permission to Dance,” quickly took the #1 spot on the Billboard top 100. BTS is also partnering with YouTube to promote a Permission to Dance challenge on YouTube Shorts that will begin tomorrow and end on August 4.

Fans will be encouraged to replicate dance moves from the music video, and the group’s favorite clips will be put into a compilation made by them.

See what others are saying: (Yonhap News) (The Korea Times) (All Kpop)

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