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Twitter faces first FIR under new IT rules, journalists also booked over posts on Muslim man

The FIR accuses Twitter of inaction in removing the 'misleading' tweets that it says were posted with an intention to 'destroy communal harmony'.

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New Delhi: The Ghaziabad police has booked Twitter, a few journalists, online media organisation The Wire and some Congress leaders on charges of “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and race”, over tweets in connection to the assault on an elderly Muslim man in Loni, Ghaziabad.

While the attack took place earlier this month, and a case in this regard was registered on 7 June, the matter hit headlines after videos related to the incident surfaced on social media and were widely shared.

Apart from Twitter Inc, Twitter Communications India and The Wire, Congress leaders Salman Nizami, Dr Shama Mohammed and Maksoor Usmani, journalists Mohammed Zubair, Rana Ayyub, and writer Saba Naqvi have been named in the FIR.

This is the first case against Twitter after the central government’s new IT rules for online news publishing platforms came into force and the social media companies were given a deadline to adhere to them.

On Tuesday, almost a month since the expiry of the ‘deadline’ and several warnings to it for compliance, the microblogging site said it has appointed an interim chief compliance officer, as mandated.

“The accused have given a communal colour to the incident without checking facts and the tweets had been broadcast on a large scale. The statements made on social media by the accused hint at a criminal conspiracy. This was done by the accused and other unknown people with an intention to create animosity between Hindus and Muslims and destroy communal harmony. These tweets with false information were shared by thousands of people. The accused including journalists and political persons didn’t try to make an attempt to establish the truth,” reads the FIR, a copy of which was seen by ThePrint.

A senior officer in the Ghaziabad police said those named in the FIR did not delete their posts even after the police issued a statement.

“The FIR has been lodged already. The tweets were misleading, some didn’t delete it after police issued a statement on it. Investigation is on.”

Speaking about the FIR, Salman Nizami told ThePrint: “We just tweeted what some media organisation had only reported. We have just condemned the act, the UP government is Islamophobic, hence only Muslim journalists and leaders have been named. There were so many others who had tweeted.”

Maksoor Usmani said: “Let me be very clear on this that I will fight against these atrocities with complete energy even at the peril of my life. My tweets are still in the public domain. I haven’t tweeted any video (which is wrongly mentioned in FIR that I have tweeted video to incite communal tension) but the tweets I had shared were based on a video and various news reports, published in mainstream national media, both print and electronic, that are already in wide circulation.”

Saba Naqvi refused to speak on the matter.

ThePrint also reached Rana Ayyub, Mohammed Zubair and Shama Mohammad through calls and messages for their comments. This report will be updated when they respond.

They have all been booked under sections 153 (provocation for rioting), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 295A (acts intended to outrage religious feelings), 505 (mischief), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.

ThePrint also reached Twitter for a comment on the FIR, but didn’t get a specific response till the time of publishing this report.

“We are keeping the MeitY apprised of the progress at every step of the process. An interim Chief Compliance Officer has been retained and details will be shared with the Ministry directly soon. Twitter continues to make every effort to comply with the new Guidelines,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement emailed to ThePrint.

Also read: What Twitter, Facebook & social media firms could stand to lose if they miss IT Rules deadline

Twitter faces heat

The FIR accuses Twitter of inaction in removing the “misleading” tweets that it says were posted with an intention to “destroy communal harmony”.

The action comes as the microblogging site, the government said, has now lost its “status as an intermediary platform in India” for not complying with the new IT rules.

While the IT Act provides social media companies protection from liability for third party content on their platforms, the government had earlier made it clear the companies will have to comply with its deadline for new IT rules, which ended on 25 May.

Under the new rules, the social media companies are required to appoint a resident grievance officer, a chief compliance officer and a nodal contact person — all required to reside in India. They are also required to publish monthly compliance reports of action taken on the complaints received by the grievance officer.

The rules also provide reduced timelines for takedown of content and for providing assistance to government agencies.

If any company fails to comply with the guidelines, the provisions of the IT Act that protects from liability shall not apply, making them liable for punishment under any law in India, including criminal prosecution under provisions of the IT Act and the Indian Penal Code, the government had said earlier.

“In spite of repeated indulgence granted, including a last notice on 5 June as a goodwill gesture, Twitter has not complied with the Intermediary Guideline Rules under the IT Act having statutory force as they have been framed in exercise of powers under Section 87 of the IT Act,” a government source said Wednesday.

“Rule 7 of the Rules very clearly enjoin that where an intermediary fails to observe these rules the provisions of sub section (1) of section 79 of the IT Act shall not be applicable to such intermediary and the intermediary shall be liable for punishment under any law including the IT Act as also the penal laws of India with respect to unlawful content published on that platform.”

While Twitter wrote to the government that it will appoint a chief compliance officer on 6 June, it has not honoured its promise, the source added.

The microblogging site, however, said Tuesday it has appointed an interim chief compliance officer and would soon share details with the IT ministry. Twitter had earlier expressed concern over the new rules and the government had issued several warnings to it to comply with the new norms.

The Ghaziabad case

A video of Abdul Samad Saifi, 72, being beaten up by a group of men and his beard being chopped off, and photos of his wounds, and another video originally uploaded on Facebook by Samajwadi Party member Ummed Pehalwan Idrisi, were shared on Twitter on 7 June and they went viral.

In the video uploaded by Idrisi, Saifi could be heard saying he was taken to an isolated location by the accused in an auto on 5 June, beaten up for four hours, and forced to chant ‘Jai Siya Ram’.

The police, however, claimed this was a matter of “personal enmity”, and there was no communal angle to it. The official police complaint filed by the elderly man on 7 June did not mention that he was forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’, as alleged by him in the video uploaded by Idrisi.

The police said the group of men who tortured the old man comprised both Hindus and Muslims, and that these men were angry over what they called “opposite reactions” from a ‘taweez (amulet)’ given by the victim to one of the accused claiming it would bring “good fortune”.

While three persons have been arrested in the case, the family of one of them, Adil, told ThePrint that he was at the spot only to “save” Saifi.

The police told ThePrint Monday that a hunt is on for at least five more accused.

Also read: Feel insulted, says cartoonist Manjul as experts question Modi govt’s request to Twitter

(With Regina Mihindukulasuriya)


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