The case registered by the Ghaziabad Police on Tuesday against news website The Wire, three journalists and three Congress politicians for their tweets related to a video in which an elderly Muslim man is seen narrating how he had been assaulted by a group of men shows that the Uttar Pradesh Police is selectively targetting specific individuals and organisations.
Several news publications and hundreds of social media users had also shared the man’s account of the attack on social media.
In addition, some provisions of the penal code invoked in the case, which was also filed against social media platform Twitter, do not seem to hold water.
The case relates to a video depicting 72-year-old Abdul Samad Saifi saying that he had been abducted in an autorickshaw by several men and locked up in a secluded house. Here, he alleged he was assaulted and forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram”. Saifi also said the assailants cut his beard and made him watch videos of other Muslims being attacked.
Though the assault took place on June 5, the video of the attack and of Saifi narrating the incident came to be circulated widely on social media on June 14. Several news organisations reported the incident based on the account in the video.
However, the Ghaziabad police, which registered a case based on Saifi’s complaint, has claimed that there was no communal angle to the assault: both Hindus and Muslims were among the accused who beat up the elderly man, they said. The police said that upon investigation, it had come to light that Saifi had been beaten up because an amulet he gave one of the assailants had an adverse effect on them.
Six people have been arrested for the attack, the Press Trust of India reported on Tuesday that .
On Tuesday, the Uttar Pradesh Police filed a case against The Wire, Twitter, journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi and Mohammad Zubair and Congress politicians Salman Nizami, Masqoor Usmani and Sama Mohammad. It alleged that they had put out tweets without verifying facts.
The complaint on which basis the FIR was filed was lodged by a policeman. The FIR alleges that this information had been tweeted with the intention of stoking communal unrest. “These people did not verify the truth of the matter and shared it online with a communal angle with an intention to disrupt public peace and create a divide between religious groups,” the FIR claimed.
Twitter has been included in the case because it failed to remove the tweets in question.
The FIR, a copy of which Scroll.in has seen, does not reveal why the case was being booked against only the six individuals and two organisations when an internet search turns up hundreds of tweets with the video and reports based on it.
For example, The Wire has been booked for a tweet issued at 7.15 pm on June 14 that linked to its report on the incident. The tweet had said that “the men attacking Abdul Samad shouted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Vande Mataram’, and forced him to repeat the slogans”.
However, Times Now had also tweeted a link to its report on the video at 2.03 pm on the same day. The tweet said, “Elderly Muslim man assaulted in Ghaziabad for not chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’; miscreants cut his beard.”
The Indian Express issued a tweet with a link to its news report at 4.42 pm on June 14. The tweet said “Elderly Muslim man attacked in Ghaziabad, forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’.”
This is not to suggest that these media organisations should also be booked for their tweets, of course. Rather, it is to show the lack of logic in the FIR, which inexplicably singles out The Wire for its tweet. This biased standard applies to the six individuals accused in the FIR too. They have been selected from among hundreds of social media users who had tweeted about the incident.
The police have invoked Indian Penal Code Sections 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot), 153A (promoting enmity between groups on ground of religion, class etc), 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious belief), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention).
This means that the Uttar Pradesh Police is contending that the people named in the FIR came together to hatched a conspiracy with a common intention of promoting enmity between groups and to cause riot through malicious acts.
It is to be noted that no riot has the tweets of the accused nor has there been an incident that supports the police case that the tweets ended up promoting enmity between Hindus and Muslims.
In several judgements over the decades, the Supreme Court has categorically stated that for offences under Section 153 and 153 A, deliberate criminal intention has to be proved. The reporting of incidents by the media or highlighting of specific incidents by journalists, if based on facts, can by no stretch of imagination be brought under the ambit of these provisions.
As a statement from The Wire points out on Tuesday, what it reported was the victim’s account of the assault. The Uttar Pradesh police has drastically transformed the reporting of the victim’s narrative into a conspiracy to incite communal unrest. “The FIR is an attempt to criminalise the reporting of anything other than the official version of events,” The Wire said.
Case against Twitter
The other aspect of the FIR was the inclusion of Twitter for failing to remove the tweets. It is not clear from the FIR if the police specifically asked Twitter to take down the tweets and what its response was.
What is also inexplicable is why Twitter has been singled out among social media platforms when the video and the elderly man’s account of the attack had been shared widely on sites like Facebook and YouTube. While Twitter has about 1.5 crore total users, Facebook has about 41 crore users and YouTube about 45 crore, making them platforms with much wider reach.
The FIR comes at a time when Twitter is at loggerheads with the Narendra Modi government over the Intermediary Guidelines under the new Information Technology Rules that came into force late last month. The Union government has sent notices to Twitter, which is an intermediary platform with certain protections against criminal liability for content published on it, asking the company to comply with the new rules.
On Tuesday, even as the controversy around the Uttar Pradesh police FIR was playing out on social media, Union Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad took to Twitter to highlight the platform’s failure to comply with the IT rules.
Prasad accused Twitter of taking “the path of deliberate defiance” and choosing to flag manipulated data only when it suited the platform. He then made a specific reference to the Uttar Pradesh case. “What happened in UP was illustrative of Twitter’s arbitrariness in fighting fake news,” he said. “While Twitter has been overenthusiastic about its fact checking mechanism, it’s failure to act in multiple cases like UP is perplexing & indicates its inconsistency in fighting misinformation.”