From making arrests to reprimanding those publishing “objectionable posts”, police forces across the country cracked down on alleged social media violations in the run-up to the Ayodhya verdict. The day of the verdict also resulted in the most Internet shutdowns ordered on one day in the past year.
Most Internet curbs and social media-related arrests occurred in UP and Rajasthan. Shutdowns on Saturday were confirmed in the districts of Aligarh, Kota, Jaipur, Jhunjhuna, Alwar, Sikar, Dausa and Bharatpur, according to the UP and Rajasthan state police as well as the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC)’s Internet Shutdown Tracker.
In New Delhi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday cancelled his pre-scheduled engagements and held a high-level meeting with key intelligence agencies to take stock of the security situation in view of the verdict.
Shah held a meeting with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, home secretary Ajit Bhalla and Director of the Intelligence Bureau Arvind Kumar at his residence in the morning. He also spoke to some CMs such as Yogi Adityanath in UP and Kamal Nath in MP informing them about the available reinforcements, in case they needed any.
A senior Home Ministry official also kept in touch with chiefs of state police forces and CAPFs during the day, a senior official said.
As per the office of DGP, Uttar Pradesh Police, 12 cases were registered and 37 people arrested during the last 24 hours in connection with “objectionable posts” on social media related to the verdict. Police said action was taken in the case of 3,712 social media posts, including getting posts deleted through direct messages and removing profiles.
UP Police lodged 8 cases against users who did not take down posts after being alerted by the UP Police, said UP Inspector General Law and Order Praveen Kumar. For overall breach of peace, 33 people were held in UP.
In Aligarh, four students were booked under Section 153 A for allegedly making derogatory comments on the court’s decision. One is a student of Aligarh Muslim University and was booked for his Facebook posts. Police said none of the accused have been arrested and will instead be sent for counselling.
In Meerut, seven people were arrested — six for allegedly bursting crackers and one for his Facebook post — for allegedly violating preventive measures set in place by the police.
Police cells monitoring social media across UP sent responses to 500 social media posts on Saturday that they deemed to be “inflammatory” and asked users to take them down, according to Kumar.
In a memo to the UP Police personnel, the social media monitors were ordered to only direct message (DM) Twitter handles with objectionable posts, and any public posts by police must be authorised by those of higher rank. It also asks them to not take any action against those who are expressing their views.
The officers were given a ready-made statement to message offenders: “Your post can influence the social harmony. So please delete immediately or else legal action could be taken against you.”
A note from Saharanpur’s Deputy Inspector General directed senior police officials in Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, and Shamli to collect information regarding WhatsApp groups in which news is circulated. They were to collect details such as administrator name, group name, number of members, and mobile number of the admin.
UP DGP O P Singh also issued an appeal to the public to check the messages before forwarding on WhatsApp. Similarly, a notice in Jharkhand on November 5 warned that not only the administrator of a group with messages inciting violence, but those who forward such messages can also be charged.
According to police in Ghaziabad and Gautam Budh Nagar, 50 potential troublemakers were identified through social media presence on November 7. “If an inflammatory post is forwarded on a WhatsApp group, everyone on the chain, including the admin, is liable for action under the Gangsters Act,” said B N Singh, Gautam Budh Nagar district magistrate.
Rajasthan police arrested one dozen people for objectionable social media posts, according to B L Soni, Rajasthan ADGP for Crime.
District Magistrates also used Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to suspend Internet services in Goa, Jaisalmer, Bengaluru, and Bhopal, SFLC said.
The last time Internet shutdowns on this scale occurred on one day was during a “Bharat Bandh” by Dalit organisations against the SC verdict regarding the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. SFLC said suspensions occurred in UP, Rajasthan, and Punjab at that time.
“Internet shutdowns, where access to the Internet is completely blocked, violate the fundamental right of citizens to freedom of speech and expression that includes the right to access information,” said Sundar Krishnan, Executive Director of SFLC.
Inputs from Avaneesh Mishra (Lucknow); Deeptiman Tiwary, Krishn Kaushik and Amil Bhatnagar (Delhi)