NEW DELHI, June 30, (Agencies): Authorities in northeastern India have cut internet access after crazed mobs beat three people to death in lynchings sparked by rumours spread on smartphones, officials said Friday.
They were the latest in a string of more than 25 similar killings in recent months across India, according to press reports, that have been ignited by false information spread on messaging service WhatsApp. “The administration has decided to cut off the internet and mobile messaging services for next 48 hours … to stop rumour mongering,” said Smriti Ranjan Das, a police spokesman in the tribaldominated state of Tripura.
The latest victims, one of whom was tasked by authorities with warning people against hoaxes, perished in three separate incidents on Thursday in Tripura. Locals in Sabroom, some 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the state capital Agartala, attacked “rumour buster” Sukanta Chakraborty with sticks and bricks as he was warning people on a megaphone against erroneous rumours. Tripura police said it was unclear what sparked the attack.
Das told AFP that the man died on the spot and that his driver was injured in a frenzied attack that lasted nearly an hour. Hours before in West Tripura district, a nearly 1,000-strong mob attacked four traders from northern Uttar Pradesh state, killing one and leaving the others critically injured.
The four took refuge inside a paramilitary camp after hundreds of people believing them to be child kidnappers chased their vehicle after they stopped for a tea break on a road. But the mob entered the base and dragged all four from the car, attacking them with sticks and rods as soldiers unsuccessfully tried to break up the crowd by firing warning shots. Police official Das identified the victim as Zahir Khan. A soldier was also critically injured. Photos of the aftermath showed the men’s badly dented van with its windows smashed and the doors yanked open. H
ours before in the same area, a mob set upon an unidentified woman after she was spotted by residents walking around their village, Das said. The woman in her 40s was beaten with batons and dragged across the village as tribal residents chanted “death to child lifters”, police said. No arrests have been made in the cases but authorities said they were questioning several suspects.
State chief minister Biplab Deb in a tweet warned of strict action against people indulging in spreading rumours and fake news. He accused his political opponents of fuelling the rumours to destabilise his government as demands for him to step down intensified.