TIME:They Shared a Video of a Muslim Man Being Attacked in India. Now They’re Being Investigated by Police
Indian authorities have launched a fresh attack on freedom of expression, escalating a crackdown on press freedom and social media platforms. It’s yet another indicator that India, often called the world’s largest democracy, is lurching toward authoritarianism.
The trigger was a video of a violent assault on a Muslim man that went viral on Twitter, which ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) officials say was used to spread misinformation aimed at stoking religious tensions.
Late Tuesday night, Indian police opened an investigation into three Muslim journalists and three Muslim members of the opposition Congress party who had shared the video, along with Twitter and news site The Wire—one of the few media outlets in India that have remained independent.
India’s IT Minister also accused Twitter of failing to comply with the government’s new Internet rules on Wednesday, intensifying an ongoing confrontation that some observers have speculated could culminate in the social media platform being banned in the country.
The video in question showed a group of men attacking an elderly Muslim man in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The individuals named in the police investigation had shared comments from the victim, who said that his attackers had cut off his beard and forced him to chant “Jai Shri Ram” (Glory to Lord Ram), an expression that has become a rallying cry for Hindu nationalists, in a suggestion that the attack was religiously motivated. Many mainstream Indian media organizations also reported the victim’s comments but were not named in the investigation.
Police investigating the case denied that the incident was motivated by religion, saying Tuesday that some of the attackers were Muslim. In a statement announcing the investigation, police said that those named had “tried to create animosity between Hindus and Muslims,” and “did not make an attempt to establish the truth in the case,” adding that they had spread “false news.” Police said the six individuals would be investigated for several possible offenses including attempting to provoke a riot, promoting enmity between religious groups, public mischief, and criminal conspiracy.