Police summon Twitter's India head over assault video

Indian police have summoned Twitter’s top local executive over a viral video on the site of a Muslim man being assaulted, with authorities accusing the US social media giant of stoking sectarian tensions.

The order comes as a battle rages between foreign tech giants and the Indian government over new rules on removing and identifying the authors of online material deemed illegal or inflammatory.

According to a notice served to Twitter on Thursday, managing director Manish Maheshwari must report to a police station and make a statement within a week.

The platform “let content go viral that promoted enmity between various communities in the state and country”, Uttar Pradesh police said in the notice, seen by AFP.

Twitter declined to comment and the video was still available on the site Friday.

Last month Indian police visited Twitter’s offices after the firm labelled tweets by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s national spokesman as “manipulated media”. 

The US company later accused authorities of “intimidation”.

– Nationalist chant –

The video causing the furore shows an elderly Muslim man forcibly having his beard shaved off.

Twitter users shared the footage and news reports that said the man was forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram” (“Hail Lord Ram”), a rallying cry for Hindu nationalists.

Police have said the incident was not a hate crime but a personal dispute and that the man was assaulted by both Hindu and Muslim men.

Earlier this week they filed a case against Twitter, three journalists, three members of the opposition Congress party and the investigative news website The Wire.

The preliminary charges include promoting enmity among communities, being party to a “criminal conspiracy” and spreading fake news.

All six of those named are from India’s minority Muslim community.

Reporters Without Borders, echoing local rights groups, called on police to withdraw the “absurd” case, calling it “judicial harassment”.

– ‘First originator’ –

According to the Indian government, all large social media platforms have complied with new IT regulations that came into force last month — except Twitter.

These rules demand that firms give details about the “first originator” of posts deemed to undermine India’s sovereignty, state security or public order.

Social media companies and privacy activists fear the vagueness of the rules means they could be forced to identify the authors of posts critical of the government.

The tech companies also have to appoint a chief compliance officer for the rules and a “grievance redressal officer”, both based in India.

Twitter on Wednesday insisted it was “making every effort to comply with the new guidelines” and was in close touch with the government.

WhatsApp is challenging the new rules in court. It fears it will be forced to break encryption, a cornerstone of its service that prevents anyone other than the sender and receiver from reading messages.

In its court filing, the Facebook-owned company said the rules infringed upon the “fundamental rights to privacy and free speech of the hundreds of millions of citizens using WhatsApp” in India.

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