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Greta Thunberg reiterates support for India farmers' protest despite "threats"

Celebrities back Indian farmers' months-long protest
Celebrities back Indian farmers' months-long protest 05:49

New Delhi — Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg said Thursday that "hate" and "threats" wouldn't stop her speaking out in support of thousands of Indian farmers locked in a standoff with their government. Thunberg fired back online as police in India launched an investigation mentioning her tweets, which have drawn a vitriolic reaction online.

"I still #StandWithFarmers and support their peaceful protest. No amount of hate, threats or violations of human rights will ever change that. #FarmersProtest," the young Swedish campaigner tweeted.

Indian police have begun the process of investigating what the government labels "propaganda" by "vested interest groups" trying to "mobilize international support against India." 

The investigation may encompass a number of social media posts, including some shared by Thunberg, in support of the farmers' months-long protest. 

The Delhi police cited her tweets in a First Information Report (FIR), the first step in the investigatory process under Indian law, which alleges a "criminal conspiracy" and an attempt to "promote enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language... and acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony," according to Indian news outlet NDTV. 

Earlier on Thursday, Thunberg shared a "toolkit" in a Twitter post that advises people on how to show support for the protesters.

Delhi police said Thursday that their investigation into an "overseas conspiracy" was not against Thunberg, but the "toolkit" she tweeted out, which they say originated with a Sikh separatist group.

Thunberg first voiced solidarity with the farmers after popstar Rihanna drew global attention to their protest against three controversial new farm laws. The demonstrations have simmered since November, with occasional violent clashes in Delhi.

India Republic Day Farmers Protest
Protesting farmers are seen amid tear gas smoke fired by police in an attempt to stop them from marching to the capital during India's Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi, India, January 26, 2021.  Altaf Qadri/AP

The Indian government took on the celebrities Wednesday after their tweets attracted global attention, dismissing the social media messages as "sensationalist" and "neither accurate nor responsible."

"The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible," India's external affairs ministry said in a statement

Several other public figures, including activists, and American politicians, also tweeted in support of the farmers. 

"It's no coincidence that the world's oldest democracy was attacked not even a month ago, and as we speak, the most populous democracy is under assault. This is related. We ALL should be outraged by India's internet shutdowns and paramilitary violence against farmer protesters," wrote U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris' niece Meena Harris.

"The unfolding events in India are troubling. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I am closely monitoring the situation. The right to peaceful protest must always be respected," wrote U.S. Representative Jim Costa, a Democrat from California who serves on both the Foreign Affairs and Agriculture Committees. 

Hundreds of thousands of farmers in India have been locked in a defiant standoff with the government since late last year over three agriculture reform laws approved in September. 

The government insists the reforms will give expanded market access and greater flexibility to farmers. But farmers say the measures will help big business and destroy the livelihoods of small-time farmers. They're demanding a complete repeal of all three laws. 

Eleven rounds of talks between the leaders of the farm protests and Modi's government have failed to resolve the standoff. 

India's agriculture sector contributes almost 15% to India's $2.9 trillion economy, and employs nearly half of the country's 1.3 billion people. 

The Indian government on Wednesday reiterated its justification for the reforms and claimed it was only a "very small section of farmers in parts of India" who "have some reservations about these reforms." 

The government insisted the laws were approved after a "full debate and discussion" in parliament. 

Standoff around the capital

Indian police have stepped up their efforts to prevent the protesting farmers from entering the capital again, ahead of a call for a second nationwide shutdown this weekend in support of the protest.

The farmers have threatened to block roads across the country on Saturday in protest against what they call harassment by government authorities, including the severing of water, power and internet services to the protest camps.

India Farmer Protests
Security officers, in the foreground, push back people shouting slogans during a demonstration held in support to farmers who have been on a months-long protest, in New Delhi, India, on February 3, 2021.  Manish Swarup/AP

Internet services were shut down earlier this week at three key highway entry points into Delhi where the farmers have been camped out for more than two months. 

Several Indian news outlets reported that the police had put up iron spikes, barbed wire and concrete walls at various entry points to the capital. 

Human Rights Watch has called on the Indian government to drop legal cases against eight journalists who were arrested after their reporting on the January 26 protests and clashes. 

Security personnel stand guard at an entry point into New Delhi, ahead of a march in support of farmers protesting against the central government's recent agricultural reforms in New Delhi, February 3, 2021.  MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty

"The Indian authorities' response to protests has focused on discrediting peaceful protesters, harassing critics of the government, and prosecuting those reporting on the events," said HRW South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly.

Warning to Twitter 

The Indian government warned Twitter on Wednesday that it could take some unspecified action against the social media platform for its move to "unilaterally" un-block more than 250 accounts that it suspended on Monday, at the government's request, over the use of a controversial hashtag related to the farmer protests. 

The government had labeled the tweets using the hashtag, which accuses officials of planning a "genocide" of farmers, part of a, "motivated campaign to abuse, inflame and create tension in society on unsubstantiated grounds." 

"Incitement to genocide is not freedom of speech; It is a threat to law and order," the government has insisted in its warnings to the social media company to comply. 

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