Controversial Facebook Post on Prophet Muhammad Sparks Violent Riots

The police fired at the mob of over a thousand in an episode that lasted several hours in India. Three died, while over a hundred were arrested.
August 12, 2020, 3:08pm
riots communal prophet muhammad india bengaluru facebook
Policemen walk past burnt vehicles in Bengaluru on August 12. On the night of August 11, an allegedly derogatory Facebook post about Prophet Muhammad sparked riots. Photo by Manjunath Kiran / AFP

At least three people died from police firing and over a hundred were arrested in the south Indian city of Bengaluru after violence erupted over a controversial social media post about Prophet Muhammad. The mob included over a thousand people.

The Facebook post has since been deleted but is said to have had offensive comments about Prophet Muhammad. An Indian National Congress (INC) lawmaker Dinesh Gundu Rao tweeted that the post had “an intention to create violence”.

The Bengaluru police arrested a man identified as P Naveen for the Facebook post that consisted of “derogatory” remarks. The police said that Naveen is a nephew of a political leader from the INC, R Akhanda Srinivas Murthy. Murthy’s house was attacked in the violence.

Naveen however, claimed that his phone was hacked and insisted he is not responsible for the post. His Facebook account has been deactivated.

The violence reportedly started with a group of men gathering at the DJ Halli police station to demand Naveen’s arrest on August 11. When that did not happen, the group headed to Murthy’s house, with the mob growing as the night progressed.

According to The News Minute, the mob outnumbered the police deployment. The news outlet cited eyewitnesses’ claims that for at least the first 10 minutes, the police either did not take action or appropriately handle the crowd despite the escalating violence.

In a tweet, the Bengaluru police said that the mob set fire to vehicles and attacked policemen with stones. They also said that the police had to use “baton charge, tear gas and bullets” to contain the situation until the early hours of August 12. The mob reportedly torched more than 20 vehicles. A police station was also attacked, and 200 bikes in the precinct set on fire.

Media reported that Murthy himself was not home when the mob vandalised his property. Minutes later, the legislator shared a video statement on social media asking people to stay calm. “I request our Muslim friends, for the mistake of some miscreants, let's not fight. Whatever the fight, we're brothers. Whoever has made a mistake, let's teach them a lesson through legal means,” he said.

At least 60 police personnel were reportedly injured during the clashes. Some media personnel were attacked during the violence as well.

Indian journalist Nolan Pinto tweeted that he was hit on the head by the Bengaluru police, even though he told them he is a member of the media.

In a tweet, city police commissioner Kamal Pant said a total of 110 people accused of arson, stone-pelting and assault on police were arrested.

Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which prohibits “unlawful assembly” of five or more people, has been imposed in many parts of the city.

As of August 12, “Prophet Muhammad” was trending on Twitter. Videos and photos of unidentified men setting vehicles on fire went viral. The violence also spurred anti-Muslim sentiments on social media.

Shashi Tharoor, a Member of Parliament from the INC party, appealed that the incident must not be used to vilify the whole Muslim community.

Most recently, India is a hotbed of communal tensions. In December 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party passed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. It cleared pathways to citizenship for individuals belonging to six religions—except Islam—from neighbouring countries.

The law led to nationwide protests and escalated with one of the most deadly communal riots in the history of India on February 23, believed to have been started by Hindu mobs. Of the 53 people who died in the carnage, over two-thirds were Muslims who were either shot, bludgeoned with weapons, or set on fire.

A month or so later, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit India, hundreds of members of Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic missionary movement, were blamed for spreading the novel coronavirus after a prayer meeting in New Delhi turned into a COVID-19 cluster.

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