25 arrested over latest mob lynching in India

NEW DELHI • Indian police said yesterday they have arrested 25 people after a man was killed by a mob in the country's latest lynching on suspicion of child kidnapping sparked by rumours on WhatsApp.

The men were arrested over the murder of 27-year-old Mohammad Azam, who was attacked along with two friends by a 2,000-strong mob in southern Karnataka state's Bidar district late last Friday.

Mr Azam's friends were critically injured in the assault that came days after the messaging service published advertisements in Indian newspapers offering tips to curb the spread of fake information on its platform.

More than 20 people have been lynched in India after being accused of child abduction in the last two months, according to media reports.

Police said Mr Azam, a call centre employee, and his friends were returning to the neighbouring Hyderabad city after visiting their friend in Bidar, when they stopped and offered chocolates to children.

Bidar deputy police chief V.N. Patil said: "One of them had bought chocolates from Qatar and offered them to the children as a token of affection."

But one of the children started crying, alerting elders who accused the men of being kidnappers amid social media rumours about child kidnapping rings in the area, he added.

Deputy police chief Patil said the three managed to flee, but were attacked by a much larger mob a few kilometres ahead after locals alerted nearby villages via WhatsApp.

Their car flipped after hitting a roadblock placed by the angry mob before they were dragged out of the vehicle and beaten with sticks and stones.

Police inspector Dileep Sagar said at least 10 police officers, including him, were injured as the mob rampaged for nearly an hour.

The spate of lynchings started last May in eastern Jharkhand state after rumours on WhatsApp about child kidnappers led to the lynching of seven men.

The rumours have since resurfaced, with 21 deaths reported in dozens of attacks across the country mostly targeting non-locals.

India accused WhatsApp of failing to curb false information on its platform.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2018, with the headline '25 arrested over latest mob lynching in India'. Print Edition | Subscribe