India blocks critical documentaries by Australia’s public broadcaster and ‘pressures’ ABC journalists

India has blocked access to critical videos by Australia’s public broadcaster dealing with the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada.

YouTube reportedly complied with a demand from the Indian government to block access in India to an episode of “Foreign Correspondent” filmed by ABC News focusing on the Sikh separatist.

The episode investigated the killing of Nijjar in Canada, allegedly implicating Indian government agents. Nijjar, a Khalistan separatist, was shot and killed outside a gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia, on 18 June last year.

Canada later said that Indian government agents were involved in the murder of Nijjar which led to a massive diplomatic row between the two countries.

In an email sent to ABC on Sunday, YouTube said it had received an order from India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting over the upload of “Sikhs, Spies and Murder: Investigating India’s alleged hit on foreign soil”.

According to ABC, YouTube said that the order from the Indian government was “confidential” and that it came under India’s Information Technology Act, 2000.

The order comes a few weeks ahead of India’s massive general election starting 19 April.

The news website also claimed that its journalists had faced pressure from the authorities while working on the episode. “They were questioned by Indian criminal intelligence officials about the nature of the reporting and were blocked from filming a public event in Punjab,” they said.

An ABC spokesperson said in a statement: “It was meticulously researched and balanced and sought an array of perspectives, and upholds the highest editorial standards.”

“We defend the audience’s fundamental right to access this story, regardless of their location.”

This isn’t the first instance of India banning news content related to Nijjar’s killing. Earlier this month, YouTube and X blocked access in India to a story by CBC News titled “The Fifth Estate” on Nijjar’s killing. The platforms were made to comply with an order by India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

“Indian law obligates X to withhold access to this content in India; however, the content remains available elsewhere,” X said in an email to the CBC.

“We disagree with this action and maintain that freedom of expression should extend to these posts. Following the Indian legal process, we are in current communication with the Indian authorities.”

Meanwhile, ABC said that YouTube also blocked a news package about ASIO [Australian Security Intelligence Organisation] agents meeting with Sikh activists in Australia regarding Nijjar’s death.

On clicking the YouTube link of the “Foreign Correspondent” provided on the ABC News website, the following message pops up instead of the video: “Video unavailable: This content is currently unavailable in this country because of an order from the government related to national security or public order. For more details about government removal requests, please visit the Google Transparency Report.”

Last year, a BBC documentary titled “India: the Modi Question” that investigated tensions between Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and the country’s Muslim minority was taken down by Indian authorities.

The documentary was released in the UK on 17 January last year and was briefly available on YouTube in India but was taken down by Indian authorities. The Indian government issued orders to both YouTube and Twitter to block content related to the documentary using emergency powers under the country’s information and technology laws.

The documentary was banned in India as the Indian government called it a “propaganda piece” which displays “bias, [a] lack of objectivity, and frankly a continuing colonial mindset” on the part of the BBC. The BBC, meanwhile, defended itself and said that it was conducted by adhering to the “highest editorial standards”.