Law

Unnao: Police File FIR Against 8 Twitter Handles for Allegedly Spreading 'Fake' News

Digital news platform Mojo Story – one of the twitter accounts booked for allegedly spreading misinformation – called the move a blatant case of harassment and intimidation.

New Delhi: The Uttar Pradesh Police on Sunday registered a first information report (FIR) against eight Twitter handles, including Barkha Dutt’s Mojo Story, for allegedly spreading “fake” news about the “poisoning” of three Dalit girls in Unnao, news reports said.

Apart from digital news platform @themojostory, the FIR was lodged against @NilimDutta, @jajagranlive, @SurajKrBaudh, @VijayAmbedkarUP, @Abhaykumarazad97, @Rahuldiwkr and @BhimSenaChief, the Indian Express reported. The report added that some of the twitter handles could not be found on the social media platform on Sunday.

The report cited Unnao police’s statement that said, “Eight Twitter handles posted fake, misleading information which caused anger among common people. These posts spread information, which was beyond facts and contradictory to the post-mortem report, about the girls being raped and attempts being made to burn their bodies despite opposition from family members. In the post mortem report, it was not found that the girls were raped. The bodies of the girls were buried only after their families agreed and without any pressure.”

The FIRs were filed under IPC section 153 (provocation with intent to cause riot) and section 66 of the Information Technology Act.

The @themojostory tweeted in response to the FIR, saying: “FIR for our reportage of the Unnao murders — this is a blatant case of harassment and intimidation. Arun Agarwal, a local stringer sent us initial inputs, later we had a Delhi correspondent on ground, as well. We have reported all dimensions of the tragedy, the family’s anxieties and allegations as well as the police response at every step. And if this case is pursued, we will confidently defend our journalistic rights and freedom in court.”

The Mojo Story posted on Twitter the video story, adding: “The police denial on attempting an early cremation was reported prominently & we removed a tweet after their statement. However, on the ground, when we spoke to the girls’ families, they still say the police wanted an early cremation. This is what we were told.”

Unnao ASP Vinod Kumar Pandey told the daily that the case was lodged against the Twitter handles at Unnao Kotwali (Sadar) for sharing “misinformation” about the Unnao incident on social media which was “false and misleading”.

A tweet from @SurajKrBauddh, run by Azad Samaj Party spokesperson Suraj Kumar Bauddh, read: “Govt’s target is already set. That’s how they suppress the voice for justice. UPP booked me in Unnao case…” The Azad Samaj Party was launched by Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad in October last year.

@BhimSenaChief belongs to Nawab Satpal Tanwar, who on Twitter claims to be the chief of an outfit called Bhim Sena.

Three Dalit girls were last week allegedly poisoned and found unconscious in their family’s fields of Babuhara village in Asoha in Unnao. Of them, the two girls, aged 13 and 16, died, while the third girl’s (aged 17) condition is still critical but stable.

UP director general of police (DGP), Hitesh Chandra Awasthi had told PTI that in the postmortem report, no injuries were found on the two deceased girls’ bodies and no evidence of sexual assault was found.

On Saturday, the police arrested two people in connection with the deaths, one of whom, Vinay (28), confessed to mixing insecticide in water to target the eldest girl because she had turned him down, and he wanted to seek revenge.

Also read: Attacked, Arrested, Left Without Recourse: How 2020 Was for India’s Journalists

Increasing number of FIRs against journalists

This is not the first time a case has been filed against journalists and organisations for reporting and tweeting about a developing story.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in 2021, FIRs, including sedition charges, were filed against at least ten journalists in just a month. With five arrests in January, 2021 witnessed the highest number of arrests of journalists since 1992 in India, according to the US-based non-profit organisation, the Hindu reported.

On January 28, FIRs were lodged against six senior journalists, including India Today’s Rajdeep Sardesai, for allegedly “inciting violence” during Republic Day’s tractor parade on January 26 through their social media posts. On January 30, the Rampur Police in UP lodged an FIR against The Wire’s founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan and reporter Ismat Ara for an article on the farmer who died during the tractor rally. On January 31, journalist Mandeep Punia was arrested and allegedly assaulted by the Delhi Police at the Singhu border, where he was covering farmers’ protest.

As per the CPJ report, in India, citizen’s political rights and civil liberties are relatively better than press freedom.

The Diplomat reported that in just five years under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s place in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index dropped to 142nd in 2020 from 136th in 2015. India falls behind most of its neighbors, including Myanmar (139), Afghanistan (122), Bhutan (67), Nepal (112), and Sri Lanka (127).