Detentions follow killing of two more men following rumors spread on Whatsapp
Indian police have arrested 15 men after the latest in a spate of lynchings incited by rumors spread on WhatsApp of strangers abducting children, an officer said on Sunday.
A mob in a mainly tribal area of the northeastern state of Assam pulled two men out of their car on Friday night and beat them to death before police could arrive. A video on YouTube shows the badly bruised and bleeding men pleading for their lives.
The two friends, residents of Guwahati city in the state, were returning from a picnic spot.
“We have arrested 15 persons. We have also zeroed in on a couple of people who recorded and uploaded the video,” senior state police official Mukesh Agrawal told AFP. “The villagers got suspicious of the strangers as for the last three or four days messages were going around on WhatsApp, as well as through word of mouth, about child lifters roaming the area,” the officer said.
The brutal killings triggered protests in Guwahati, where some 2,000 people gathered on the streets to demand justice for the victims.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said he was “deeply anguished” by the incident and said those found guilty of the violence would face the strictest punishment. “I urge everyone to maintain peace and social harmony and not to fall prey to rumors,” he wrote on Twitter.
India has seen a string of similar vigilante mob killings sparked by fake news—often looking like newspaper clippings—circulated on social media.
Last month six people were killed in separate incidents in southern India prompted by rumors about a child kidnapping gang. And last year eight men were killed in similar attacks in Jharkhand state in the east.
Experts say false news spreads like wildfire in rural India, with vulnerable and often illiterate first-time smartphone users unable to sift real news from fake.