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Rihanna anger India by backing protesting farmers


Agence France-Presse

New Delhi, India  /  Thu, February 4, 2021  /  10:00 am
 Rihanna anger India by backing protesting farmers

In this file photo taken on June 23, 2019 Rihanna appears onstage during the 2019 BET awards at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, California. (AFP/Jean-Baptiste Lacroix)

India on Wednesday slammed pop superstar Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg for making "sensationalist" Twitter comments on farmer protests, and threatened legal action against the US social media giant for not taking down other content on the protests.

Social media platforms have become a major battleground in India since tens of thousands of farmers camped on the outskirts of India's capital in November to protest against government action to deregulate produce markets.

Rihanna, who has more than 100 million Twitter followers, wrote "why aren't we talking about this?!", with a link to a news story about an internet blackout at some protest camps.

Hundreds of thousands of people retweeted or liked her comment.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg also tweeted a story about the blackout, saying: "We stand in solidarity with the #FarmersProtest in India."

Meena Harris, a niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris -- whose mother was born in India -- added her support, saying everyone should be "outraged by India's internet shutdowns and paramilitary violence against farmer protesters".

The celebrity tweets triggered an online storm in India, where the protests have become the biggest challenge to Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he took power in 2014.

The foreign ministry said the celebrities should keep out of internal affairs and needed "a proper understanding of the issues".

"The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible," it said.

Some Indians tweeted in support of Rihanna, but others attacked her.

Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut, a  Modi supporter, called the protesting farmers "terrorists" and Rihanna a "fool".

Modi says the laws are necessary to boost rural incomes, but farmers fear the key agriculture industry will be taken over by big corporations.

The government later threatened Twitter with "penal action" for unlocking 250 accounts and many tweets that the company had earlier blocked.

Twitter took the initial action following a government notice, but reversed course after a few hours.

Among accounts targeted was a prominent news magazine and others linked to farmer unions.

The Electronics and IT ministry said Twitter had "unilaterally" unblocked the accounts and content.

Twitter was "obliged" to obey the government, it said, adding: "Refusal to do so will invite penal action."

A senior ministry official told AFP that the blocking order had been "specifically" about content that had the hashtag "#ModiPlanningFarmerGenocide" and not general comments about the protests.

India has also faced criticism from media watchdogs over the arrest of a journalist and investigations launched into five others -- who could face sedition charges.

India, the world's biggest democracy, regularly uses internet shutdowns to limit information-sharing during disturbances.