Centre tightens leash, UP charges Twitter for inciting 'communal sentiments'

People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration/File Photo

Ghaziabad: Uttar Pradesh Police have booked Twitter, a news portal and six people for circulating a video in which an elderly Muslim man says he was thrashed and asked to chant "Jai Shri Ram".

Police claimed that it was done to create communal unrest.

The FIR names Twitter Inc, Twitter Communications India, news website The Wire, journalists Mohammed Zubair and Rana Ayyub, Congress leaders Shama Mohamed, Salman Nizami, Maskoor Usmani and writer Saba Naqvi.

"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 states.

The FIR was lodged at the Loni Border police station in Ghaziabad around 11.30 pm on Tuesday on the basis of a complaint lodged by a local policeman.

The police action came within hours of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath exchanging remarks on Twitter over the incident.

The Press Club of India (PCI) has demanded that the FIR naming the journalists should be quashed because it shows "vendetta" by the Ghaziabad police to create a "sense of terror" in the media and society at large.

"The PCI appeals to the government of UP to intervene in the matter at the earliest to ensure that journalists are not made easy targets of police high handedness by filing FIR against them," it said in a statement.

In a video clip, which surfaced on social media on June 14, the elderly Muslim man, Abdul Shamad Saifi, is heard saying he was thrashed by some young men and asked to chant "Jai Shri Ram".

However, the Ghaziabad police has ruled out a communal angle. It said the accused were unhappy about a "tabeez" (amulet) he sold to them.

Ghaziabad (Rural) Superintendent of Police Iras Raja said on Wednesday that three people -- Kalloo Gurjar, Parvesh Gurjar and Adil - have been arrested for assaulting Saifi.

Police are also looking for others involved in the case including those identified as Polly, Himanshu, Arif and Murshid, he said.

The FIR states that the Ghaziabad police had issued a clarification statement with facts of the incident but despite that the accused did not remove the video from their Twitter handles.

The police had also clarified that those who attacked Saifi included Hindu as well as Muslim men and the incident was a result of personal issues between them and not communal, it said.

"Besides, Twitter Inc and Twitter Communications India did not take any measures to remove their tweets," it added.

The FIR has been lodged under 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) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Earlier on Tuesday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had said, "I am not willing to accept that true devotees of Lord Ram can do such a thing."

"Such cruelty is far removed from humanity and is shameful for both society and religion," the former Congress chief had tweeted in Hindi tagging a news report on the Ghaziabad incident.

Sharing a screenshot of Gandhi's tweet, Adityanath had said, "The first teaching of Lord Ram is speak the truth, which you have never done in your life."

"You should be ashamed that even after the police telling the truth you are spreading poison in society. In the greed of power, (you) are shaming humanity. Stop humiliating and defaming the people of Uttar Pradesh," the chief minister had said in a tweet in Hindi.

Minister slams Twitter for not complying with new IT rules

Meanwhile, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday slammed Twitter for deliberate defiance and failure to comply with the country's new IT rules, which has led to the US giant losing its intermediary status in India and becoming liable for users posting any unlawful content.

Twitter has allegedly not fully complied with the new rules, called Intermediary Guidelines that call for setting up grievance redressal mechanism and appointing officers to coordinate with law enforcement.

The rules became effective from May 26 and Twitter even after the expiry of the additional time has not appointed the requisite officers, leading to it losing the 'safe harbour' immunity, sources in the government said.

Prasad said Twitter has "deliberately chosen the path of non-compliance." The minister also mentioned that if any foreign entity believes that it can portray itself as flag bearer of free speech in India to excuse itself from complying with the law of the land, "such attempts are misplaced".

"There are numerous queries arising as to whether Twitter is entitled to safe harbour provision. However, the simple fact of the matter is that Twitter has failed to comply with the Intermediary Guidelines that came into effect from the 26th of May," he said in social media posts.

He posted a series of messages on Koo - Twitter's homegrown replica - and then on Twitter itself, saying the US social media giant "was given multiple opportunities to comply with the same, however, it has deliberately chosen the path of non-compliance."

Loss of intermediary status in India implies that in the event of any charge against the microblogging site for alleged unlawful content, it would be treated as a publisher and would be liable for punishment under penal laws.

The new IT rules, originally announced in February, are aimed at regulating content on social media firms and making likes of Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter more accountable to legal requests for swift removal of posts and sharing details on the originators of messages.

The government's relationship with social media platforms has been tense for the past few months and with Twitter, it got enunciated when posts by BJP leaders on an alleged strategy document of the opposition Congress party to target the Modi government's handling of the second wave of Covid infections, was tagged as 'manipulated media'.

"Further, what is perplexing is that Twitter fails to address the grievances of users by refusing to set up process as mandated by the law of the land. Additionally, it chooses a policy of flagging manipulated media, only when it suits, its likes and dislikes," Prasad said on Wednesday.

He also referred to tweets by few journalists and fact-checking website co-founder allegedly giving communal colour to a dispute over the sale of a 'tabeez' (amulet).

The minister said that what happened in Uttar Pradesh was illustrative of Twitter's "arbitrariness" in fighting fake news.

"While Twitter has been over-enthusiastic about its fact-checking mechanism, its failure to act in multiple cases like UP is perplexing as well as points towards its inconsistency in fighting misinformation," he said.

Prasad said that Indian companies, be it pharma or IT or others that go to do business in the US or in other countries overseas, voluntarily follow the local laws.

"Then why are platforms like Twitter showing reluctance in following Indian laws designed to give voice to the victims of abuse and misuse," the minister questioned.

The culture of India varies like its large geography, he said, adding that in certain scenarios, with the amplification of social media, even a small spark can cause a fire, especially with the menace of fake news.

"This was one of the objectives of bringing the Intermediary Guidelines," Prasad said.

The IT Ministry has questioned Twitter over not providing information about the Chief Compliance Officer as required under the rules.

Also, the resident grievance officer and nodal contact person nominated by the company is not an employee of Twitter Inc in India as prescribed in the rules, the ministry had flagged.

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