A parliamentary committee on Wednesday came down heavily on Twitter for showing Ladakh as part of China, saying it amounted to treason and an explanation must be tendered by the United States-based parent of the social media platform in form of an affidavit, sources in the panel said.
Appearing before the joint committee of parliament on Data Protection Bill, chaired by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Meenakshi Lekhi, representatives of Twitter India "begged apology", but they were told by the members that it was a criminal offence that questioned the sovereignty of the country and an affidavit must be submitted by Twitter Inc, not by its 'marketing arm' Twitter India, sources added.
They were questioned for more than two hours by the panel members, mainly on Ladakh being shown as part of China on the Twitter app.
"The committee was of the unanimous opinion that Twitter's explanation on showing Ladakh as part of China was inadequate," Lekhi told PTI after the meeting.
The Twitter representatives told the panel that the social media company respects the sensitivities of India, she said.
"But, it is not only a question of the sensitivity of India or Indians. It is a question about national integrity and sovereignty of the country, and not respecting that is a criminal offence. And displaying Indian map improperly and incorrectly is an offence of treason and attracts imprisonment of seven years,” she said.
Lekhi said Twitter was also asked about its banning policy.
"Shadow banning, banning policy… there is no clarity about it. Such actions are very subjective... Twitter is becoming a law onto themselves and under these circumstances, they are violating Article 19 of the Constitution about the freedom of expression," she said.
Twitter in a statement said that the company remains committed to openness and transparency, and will stay in regular touch with the government to share timely updates.
"The recent geo-tagging issue was swiftly resolved by our teams. We are committed to openness, transparency around our work and will remain in regular touch with the government to share timely updates," a Twitter spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Sources said some members also raised questions about Twitter's transparency policy and its actions during elections, especially vis-a-vis their policies in other countries.
Asked for their comments, a Twitter spokesperson said in an emailed statement, "The recent geotagging issue was swiftly resolved by our teams. We are committed to openness, transparency around our work and will remain in regular touch with the government to share timely updates."
Multiple sources in the panel said Twitter officials "begged apology" for Ladakh being shown as part of China on its app, but they were told by members that whatever they wanted to say on the issue should be given in writing in form of an affidavit by Twitter Inc, the parent company of the social media platform.
They said Twitter India is "just a marketing arm" of US-based parent Twitter Inc, and therefore a written reply should come from them.
Twitter Asia, based in Singapore, mainly deals with advertisement revenues and takes all major decisions related to the region, some members opined.
Officials who deposed before the panel on behalf of Twitter India included Shagufta Kamran, senior manager, public policy; Ayushi Kapoor, legal counsel; Pallavi Walia, policy communications; and Manvinder Bali, corporate security.
Officials from the Ministry of Electronics, Information and Technology, and the Ministry of Law and Justice also deposed before the panel.
The Indian government on October 22 had warned Twitter about its location setting that showed Leh in China, saying any disrespect towards the country's sovereignty and integrity is totally unacceptable.
In a strongly-worded letter, Ajay Sawhney, Secretary in the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to respect the country's sensitivities, sources in the ministry had said.
Twitter also came under heavy criticism and faced a backlash from social media users after its geotagging feature displayed "Jammu & Kashmir, the People's Republic of China" in a live broadcast from Leh's Hall of Fame, a war memorial for fallen soldiers in the Union Territory of Ladakh.
At that time, Twitter had called it a technical issue that had been swiftly resolved.