Uttar Pradesh Police has booked Twitter India, some INC leaders, and a few journalists including Rana Ayyub and Mohammed Zubair for ‘inciting communal sentiments’ through tweets related to the assault of an elderly man in the Ghaziabad district of the state.
Speaking on the incident which took place in Uttar Pradesh’s Loni, where a man was thrashed and his beard chopped off, Ghaziabad SSP Amit Pathak clarified that during inquiry no communal angle has been found and the fight happened over an amulet. However, an FIR has been registered in the said incident against the accused and also another complaint is filed against seven people, Twitter and Twitter India for seeing communal strife where there was none.
Ghaziabad SSP Amit Pathak said, “During inquiry no communal angle found. As per them (accused), it is a case of a personal dispute over an amulet. We arrested and jailed 3 accused who thrashed him. Teams are working to arrest other accused. Content published on social media regarding this is irresponsible and unverified. The incident took place over an amulet. We have registered FIR against those who published this on social media to give it a different angle, seven people and Twitter and Twitter India named in FIR.”
He further said, “Our team is monitoring this continuously. Stringent action will be taken against all attempts to disturb communal harmony and peace. Accused do not belong to a single community, they belong to more than one community.” Recently, a video went viral on social media where six people could be seen trashing an elderly man. The assailants also chopped off the victims’ beard and it was reported that the victim was made to chant slogans like “Jai Shree Ram” and “Vande Mataram”.
Soon after the FIR was lodged, the micro-blogging site reportedly lost intermediary status and could lose legal protection because of its failure to comply with new rules requiring it to appoint key officers in India, according to reports.
This means Twitter could now be liable for content that is published on the social media platform and cannot claim protection under the “safe harbour clause”.
Hence, if there is any charge against Twitter for alleged unlawful content it would be treated as a publisher, not an intermediary, and be liable for punishment under any law, including IT Act, as also the penal laws of the country, according to news agency ANI
“We are keeping MeitY apprised of progress at every step of the process. The interim Chief Compliance Officer has been retained and details will be shared with Ministry directly soon. Twitter continues to make every effort to comply with new guidelines,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement to media.
Twitter when approached, however, declined to comment on the FIR.
In the FIR, the police have invoked IPC sections 153 (provocation for rioting), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 295A (acts intended to outrage religious feelings), 505 (mischief), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (common intention) against them.
Twitter has been accused of not removing the “misleading” content linked to the 5 June incident in which an elderly Muslim man had alleged that his beard was cut off and he was forced to chant “Vande Matram” by a group that assaulted him, according to a report in NDTV about Twitter losing the legal indemnity in India.
Uttar Pradesh Police has denied any communal angle in the incident saying that the victim and the accused knew each other.
In all, the FIR has named a list of nine accused including INC leaders Salman Nizami, Shama Mohamed and Maskoor Usmani, writer Saba Naqvi, online news portal The Wire, and Twitter Inc and Twitter Communications India Pvt Ltd.
Three people have so far been arrested for allegedly assaulting the elderly man, Abdul Samad Saifi. The victim Saifi alleged the men offered him an auto ride, took him to an isolated spot and beat him up, forcing him to chant Jai Shri Ram. But the police said the accused beat him up because he had sold them an amulet that didn’t work for them. Those arrested so far in the case have been identified as Parvesh Gujjar, Adil and Kallu.
“The tweets by the accused had been broadcast on a large scale. The statements made through social media by the accused hint at a criminal conspiracy. The accused and other people tried to create animosity between Hindus and Muslims. The tweets were an attempt to destroy communal harmony. These false tweets had been retweeted by thousands of people. The accused include journalists and political persons who did not make an attempt to establish the truth in the case and spread false news,” said the FIR against Twitter and others.
It said that despite Ghaziabad Police clarifying the issue, the accused did not delete their tweets, neither did Twitter make any efforts to delete them.
The incident triggered a political war of words with INC leader condemning the attack eliciting a response from UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Twitter is the only social media platform that has not complied with the new IT rules that require major digital platforms to appoint India-based officers including a Chief Compliance Officer.
The Centre on June 5 sent a sharply-worded final notice to Twitter to follow the new IT rules, failing which the social media platform “shall be liable for consequences” under the law.
Fact-checking organisation Alt News co-founder Zubair, one of the accused in the case, said he had deleted the videos after knowing that the victim’s version of him being forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram” at this point in time did not seem to add up based on his conversations with police and journalists.