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The Congress alleged on Thursday that the party's official Twitter handle as well as that of a large number of its leaders and workers have been blocked by the microblogging website, which justified the action saying it has been done for violating rules.

The development comes close on the heels of the blocking of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's Twitter handle after he shared pictures of the family of a nine-year-old alleged rape-and-murder victim in Delhi last week in violation of laws.

Twitter, on its part, said the blocking of the accounts of several Congress leaders, including that of Gandhi, was done to protect individual privacy and safety after they posted images that violated its rules.

The Congress accused the website of acting against Gandhi's account under pressure from the government.

The chief spokesperson of the party, Randeep Surjewala, said the Narendra Modi government will not be able to suppress their voice by threatening Twitter.

"How much will you scare Twitter at the behest of the police? This is not just an issue of freedom of speech, but it is the issue of raising the voice of a poor Valmiki Dalit girl for justice and bringing it before the country. Till justice is given to the poor girl, we will continue to raise this voice," he said.

"The Modi government cannot cowardly suppress our voice by threatening Twitter," Surjewala told reporters.

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi accused Twitter of colluding with the government to stifle democracy.

"Is Twitter following its own policy for the suspension of Congress leaders' accounts or the Modi government's? Why hadn't it locked the account of SC commission that had tweeted similar photos before any of our leaders did?

"By locking Congress leaders' accounts en masse, Twitter is blatantly colluding with the stifling of democracy by the BJP government in India," she tweeted.

On Instagram, the Congress said: "Twitter India has locked the official handle of the principal opposition party. This is an unprecedented attack on the voice of the people."

The head of the Congress's social media department, Rohan Gupta, said the party's official Twitter handle and around 5,000 accounts of its top leaders and workers have been blocked by the website.

He alleged that Twitter is acting against the opposition party leaders under pressure from the government.

"Twitter is clearly acting under government's pressure as it did not remove the same pictures shared by the Twitter account of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes for a few days," Gupta said.

The Twitter accounts of All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretaries Surjewala, K C Venugopal, Ajay Maken, the party's whip in the Lok Sabha Manickam Tagore, Assam in-charge and former Union minister Jitendra Singh and Mahila Congress president Sushmita Dev have also been blocked, the party said.

When contacted, a Twitter spokesperson said the company's rules are enforced judiciously and impartially for everyone in its service.

"We have taken proactive action on several hundred tweets that posted an image that violated our rules and may continue to do so in line with our range of enforcement options. Certain types of private information carry higher risks than others and our aim is always to protect individual privacy and safety," he said.

According to Twitter, if a tweet is found to be in violation of its rules and is not deleted by the account holder, the microblogging platform hides it behind a notice and the account remains locked until the said tweet is removed or the appeal is successfully processed.

The US-based company said it was alerted by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) about specific content on the platform that revealed the identity of an alleged sexual assault victim, who is a minor, and her parents. The said content was reviewed against Twitter's rules and policies as well as the concerns expressed as a matter of Indian law.

"So! After Shri @RahulGandhi, the Lord @narendramodi Ji and Vassal @Jack & @twitter have locked @rssurjewala, @ajaymaken & @sushmitadevinc. @INCIndia registers its protest and promises to continue the fight for each and all being wronged! We shall hold on @AshwiniVaishnaw Ji," tweeted Pranav Jha, AICC secretary in-charge of the party's communications department, on Wednesday night. His account was also blocked by Twitter subsequently.

"The list goes on. @Twitter locks @JitendraSAlwar and @manickamtagore and many more. Doesn't Modi Ji understand that we @INCindia'ns have a legacy of fighting even from behind the locks of kaala paani?" Jha had asked in another tweet.

Gandhi had tweeted pictures with the family of the nine-year-old victim of alleged rape and murder in Delhi last week.

The NCPCR took cognisance of the former Congress chief's tweet and directed Twitter to act against his account for violating the privacy of a minor victim, mandated by the laws of the land.

Congress leaders changed their Twitter handle names to Rahul Gandhi with some of them even replacing their display pictures on the microblogging site with that of the former party chief.

Many of them accused Twitter of acting out of fear of the government.

Meanwhile, the TMC condemned the action taken by Twitter against Congress leaders.

"What's going on? We strongly condemn the blocking of the accounts of @INCIndia and senior leaders of the Congress party," Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Derek O'Brien said in a tweet.

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