New Delhi: Twitter on Monday removed at least 50 tweets related to the Loni assault case, in which an elderly Muslim man was allegedly kidnapped, beaten up and asked to chant “Jai Shri Ram” by his assailants in Ghaziabad. The man reportedly said that his beard was also cut off.
On June 17, a legal demand order was sent to the social media giant by the Centre to block such tweets, a copy of which The Wire has seen.
The move comes even as the Ghaziabad Police on June 17 sent a legal request to Twitter India managing director Manish Maheshwari in the case. Maheshwari has offered to join the probe through video conference.
Most of the tweets blocked by the social media giant concerned videos of the assault victim, 72-year-old Abdul Samad Saifi, narrating his ordeal. One of tweets had a video of the Facebook Live that Saifi participated in with Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Ummed Pahalwan Idrisi, where he elaborately explained the incident. Another was of silent video which also went viral on social media, showing Saifi’s beard being cut off.
Saifi was assaulted on June 5 while on his way to offer prayers at a mosque.
Idrisi’s Facebook Live on June 7 is the first version to come out in public from the assault victim. In the video, he describes in detail the sequence of events of the incident, including instances of him being forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram”, and being asked to drink his assailants’ urine when asked for water. The video is still available on Facebook.
After Saifi’s version went viral on social media, Ghaziabad Police on June 19 arrested Idrisi for spreading “communal hatred”. Idrisi had accompanied Saifi and encouraged him to file a complaint against the alleged assault at the Loni border police station.
The second silent video surfaced on social media on June 14. In it, Saifi can be seen being brutally thrashed, and his beard is being cut off. After this video went viral on Twitter, it triggered an outrage by users condemning the attack, and was widely being shared as a religion-based crime, as originally alleged by the victim himself in Idrisi’s Facebook Live.
An FIR was registered by Ghaziabad Police against Twitter, The Wire, several journalists and Congress leaders the next day. Ghaziabad Police, during its investigation, said that there is no “communal” angle in the incident and that it was an interpersonal matter triggered over the sale of a taveez (amulet) by the victim to the prime accused, who believes that it had brought him bad luck.
Even as the victim and his family maintained their allegations, the police deduced that the matter was not communal as people from “more than one community” were involved.
However, Saifi’s family has alleged that police did not write the FIR on the basis of a complaint letter first given by them, which contained details similar to the allegations Saifi made in the Facebook Live with Idrisi. This complaint letter surfaced much later, on June 16, as first reported by The Wire.
The tweets in question were withheld even as the case is currently being probed by Ghaziabad Police.
One tweet that has been blocked was accessed by The Wire. It read, “#Modi & his party have created a poisonous atmosphere for minorities and inspired the violence. Another Muslim was beaten up by a mob. Forced to chant Jai Shri Ram slogan. Hate speech by BJP leaders in support of criminals provoking Muslim genocide in India.”
Another tweet read, “A Muslim man, Abdul Samad Saifi was attacked and forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ in Ghaziabad. They hit him so much that he couldn’t bear the pain. “They brought a pair of scissors and cut off his beard.” This is the security provided by Indian government to its largest minorities.”
Most accounts of the blocked tweets have fewer than 100 followers and the tweets have fewer than 10 likes and retweets.
This development comes as Minister for Communications, Electronics and IT and Law and Justice, Ravi Shankar Prasad, on Wednesday (June 16) said that Twitter has deliberately failed to comply with India’s new IT rules. Twitter has chosen “the path of deliberate defiance,” he had said.
The new rules, aimed at regulating content on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp in order to make these platforms more accountable to legal requests for the removal of posts, tracing the person who started a “forward” message thread on WhatsApp, etc.
However, it is important to note that several digital activists have said that these IT rules could curtail online speech and increase censorship in the country.