Thursday, June 17 2021

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Big Story

Government vs Twitter: The sequel

The TLDR: An FIR filed in Ghaziabad aims to take down multiple targets with a single stone—including the fiercest critics of the government and, of course, Twitter. We look at the case and its implications for the social media platform’s future. 


Editor’s note: Read our previous explainer for more background on this ongoing feud.


Tell me about this case…

The trigger: It all started with a viral video of an elderly Muslim man from Ghaziabad. He claimed to have been beaten by a gang of young men—who cut his beard off and forced him to chant ‘Jai Siya Ram’. The case received wide coverage in the media—and sparked the usual outrage on Twitter, generating hundreds of tweets.


A new version of the facts: The next day—after the video went viral—Ghaziabad police claimed that there was no communal angle to this assault—and offered a new narrative

  • According to this, the man —72-year-old Abdul Samad Saifi—was in the business of making taweez or amulets. 
  • Saifi had given an amulet to one of his attackers, but it had brought him bad luck instead (a failed pregnancy in the family). 
  • Enraged by this, he and his friends—who were a mix of Hindus and Muslims—beat up Saifi. 
  • The police also made clear that Saifi did not mention any religion-related harassment while filing his complaint—and it is not in the FIR filed in his case. 
  • And they claim that videos of the attack and of Saifi’s allegations were added later after “outside influence.” We presume this refers to the Samajwadi Party member who first shared the video. 


But, but, but: The police’s account is contradicted by the victim's own family. Saifi’s son told Times of India:


“The entire police narrative is concocted. We have nothing to do with magic or ‘taveez’. We are Saifis and have been working as carpenters for generations. The police statement that Muslims were involved in the assault is false too. Beard is a Muslim identity and no Muslim will cut it off forcibly.”


The son also said that it was “the inspector who drafted the police complaint and filed an FIR. They did not write what we told them.” And The Wire has a copy of the original complaint written by Saifi which apparently confirms the details shared on his video.


But what does this have to do with Twitter?

Armed with this new version of the facts, the police then filed a new FIR against a select group of people. These include journalists Saba Naqvi, Rana Ayyub, Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair, The Wire and Congress leaders Shama Mohamed, Salman Nizami and Maskoor Usmani. Their crime: Tweeting the video without verifying facts and “giving a communal colour” to the incident. Also: The users did not delete their tweets even after the Ghaziabad police issued its ‘clarification’ denying any anti-Muslim angle. Therefore, the FIR claims


“These tweets were done with the intent of disturbing peace in the society. The tweets not only created tension but also invoked fear among a particular community in Uttar Pradesh.”


FYI: The Wire claims it only tweeted out a link to its story on the assault:


“The Wire condemns the registration of a criminal case by the UP Police over a news story and tweet based on accurate and truthful reports, by many media organisations, of what the victim of the crime has himself said about the incident. The FIR is an attempt to criminalise the reporting of anything other than the official version of events.”


Also named in the FIR: Twitter, which is under the gun for refusing to remove their tweets or flag the video. An anonymous government source told The Telegraph, “Why did Twitter not flag the particular video linked to the case as ‘manipulated media’ even though thousands of people re-tweeted it?” Point to remember: Twitter recently slapped a ‘manipulated media’ tag on BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra’s tweet—which earned the company a visit from the Delhi police.


The charges: in the FIR cite Sections 153 (provocation to cause riot), 153A (promoting enmity between religious groups), 295A (acts intended to insult religious beliefs), 505 (mischief) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.


So what happens now?


In today’s edition

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