Home South Asia India Whatsapp Terror: Indian police arrest 25 in latest lynching

Whatsapp Terror: Indian police arrest 25 in latest lynching

The killing of Mohammed Azam, who police said was a call center employee, in the southern state of Karnataka on Friday, was the latest in a series of assaults in India triggered by false messages about child abductors spread through Facebook Inc-owned WhatsApp.

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News Analysis |

Police in India have arrested more than two dozen men who were part of a mob that lynched a 32-year-old man after rumors spread over WhatsApp that he was a child-kidnapper, police said on Sunday.

The killing of Mohammed Azam, who police said was a call center employee, in the southern state of Karnataka on Friday, was the latest in a series of assaults in India triggered by false messages about child abductors spread through Facebook Inc-owned WhatsApp. At least three people have been killed and more than a dozen assaulted over such rumors this year, according to media reports.

Police in several states have denied the existence of such criminal groups. India is WhatsApp’s largest market, with an estimated 200 million users sending a billion encrypted messages each day.

Dileep Sagar, a police inspector in Karnataka, said a mob of at least 50 people attacked Azam and a relative after they were spotted offering chocolates to children in a remote village. WhatsApp has a big market in India, with more than 200 million users. The Information Technology ministry wrote to WhatsApp this month asking it to take measures to curb the spread of such fake messages.

Read more: Dalit arrests show the abuse of Indian police system

Azam, 27, died on the way to hospital. Two of his friends accompanying him were injured when the villagers descended on the trio with sticks and stones. Azam and Salman, both residents of Hyderabad, and Salaham from Qatar had come to their friend Basheer’s house in Handikera village in their car. They were returning to Hyderabad after having lunch at Basheer’s place.

At Thoul hamlet, Salaham saw some children playing and offered them chocolates he’d brought from Qatar. The children refused to take the chocolates on seeing they had a different type of wrapper. When Salaham persuaded a girl to take the chocolate, she started crying. The villagers noticed this and started scolding the men. Suddenly, a few villagers started thrashing the three men. Some in the mob recorded this on their mobile phones and sent it to their friends in the next village.

The killing of Mohammed Azam, who police said was a call center employee, in the southern state of Karnataka on Friday, was the latest in a series of assaults in India triggered by false messages about child abductors spread through Facebook Inc-owned WhatsApp.

The three men managed to escape and fled in their car. But the villagers had alerted residents of the neighboring Murki village, who blocked the road with logs. While trying to negotiate the blockade, the car rammed into the logs and flipped on its side. The three men were then now at the mercy of the villagers. The residents of Thoul hamlet, who had been following them, joined forces with Murki villagers and started hitting the trio with sticks and stones. Within half an hour, around 2,000 people had gathered around the men.

Read more: 18 arrested in latest Indian lynching case

Bidar SP D Devaraju told TOI that police tried to intervene and tried to tell them they were not child-lifters. But the villagers continued thrashing the trio. An inspector and a police constable were also injured in the melee. Police had to resort to lathi-charge to bring the situation under control.

The children refused to take the chocolates on seeing they had a different type of wrapper. When Salaham persuaded a girl to take the chocolate, she started crying. The villagers noticed this and started scolding the men.

WhatsApp put out advertisements in newspapers last week announcing an “education campaign” on how to spot fake news, adding it would also start labeling forwarded messages. A spokeswoman for the company contacted on Sunday declined to make an immediate comment. The inspector, Sagar, said at least 10 police officers, including him, were inured as they tried to control the attackers. Azam’s relative was injured. Police have also arrested the administrator of a WhatsApp group on which the false messages were spread.

Read more: Killing Of Qaisar Butt widely condemned in Indian occupied Kashmir

WhatsApp has said it can block spam but cannot read the content of messages for privacy reasons, including potentially problematic content spreading in user chats. Rumors on WhatsApp about child kidnappers saw eight men killed in eastern Indian last year but the same information has since resurfaced.

Spam messages warning parents about child kidnapping gangs have sprung up in multiple regional languages in India in recent months, sometimes accompanied by gruesome videos of child abuse. Police in several states have denied the existence of such criminal groups. India is WhatsApp’s largest market, with an estimated 200 million users sending a billion encrypted messages each day.


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1 COMMENT

  1. Well, why are they driving around giving candy to kids they don’t know? As a father, this is very suspicious. I am not saying they should have been lynched but they should have been held by the mob and arrested by the police for suspicious activity.

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