Islamabad: Islamabad wants evidence from India on its assertion that morphed online photos and hate messages which created a scare among the north-eastern community last week originated from Pakistan; Interior Minister Rehman Malik has promised India's Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde an investigation if that proof is provided.
Mr Shinde talked to Mr Malik on phone yesterday and expressed concern over the "misuse of social media networking sites by elements based in Pakistan so as to whip up communal sentiments in India". He also "sought Pakistan's full cooperation in checking and neutralising such elements".
Mr Malik told NDTV, "No bulk SMS messages to India on Assam have originated from Pakistan... I told Shinde Pakistan knows Assam issue only from media." He said he had told Mr Shinde that Pakistan would cooperate "if India provides evidence."
Mr Malik also said, "He (Mr Shinde) told me that he has information that these SMS-es originated from Pakistan, but I informed him (Mr Shinde) that at an official level we don't have any such information. And if India gives us any information regarding this, we'll investigate."
Over the weekend, the Centre said a bulk of the rumours that that triggered a scare among people from the North East in cities like Bangalore and Pune, originated in Pakistan. On Saturday, Home Secretary RK Singh had said, "We have got a hold on the wrong messages, false images... Photos of people who had died in cyclones etc were circulated as victims of violence in Myanmar and Bodoland... We want people to know that a bulk of this was done from Pakistan. We will raise this issue with Pakistan. I am certain they will decline it but our technical team is certain."
A government report says social media and SMS-es were used to spread panic among people; the uploading and circulation of such content began on July 13, the report says, around the time when the ethnic clashes in Assam began. Almost 80 people have died in those clashes and over four lakh people were displaced, many of whom have now returned to their homes.
The rumours caused panic and though no untoward incident was reported, thousands of people from the North East crowded railway stations to go back home. Special trains had to be arranged to meet the demand even as the central government and state governments repeatedly assured people that there was nothing to fear and that they should not leave. The panic has ebbed. There are no longer special trains being organized from cities like Bangalore and Pune to Guwahati, and many of those who reached the Assam capital said they would return soon to those cities to get back to work or college.
The government's initial report, which NDTV has gained exclusive access to, shows how social media was used to spread panic among people from the North-East living in different parts of the country. The report says that a socio-political Pakistani group may have begun the process of doctoring images and spreading them across social networking sites like Facebook; a few Indian groups, though, are also suspected to have played a role. The report further says that pictures of earthquakes in Thailand and Tibet were morphed and circulated that triggered the panic.
It also adds that fake profiles were created around the end of last month to push the online content aggressively on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to reportedly provoke violence. Several Indians have been found to have created these fake profiles to circulate pictures and link clashes in Myanmar and Assam.
The reports further states that an extremist group "is waging an online campaign after the outbreak of violent clashes in Myanmar." The report also details how some of the right-wing extremists retaliated once the campaign of morphed pictures started.
Over 70 websites that were allegedly circulating inflammatory content have been blocked by the government, says the report. Seven people have been identified, of whom three have been arrested for spreading rumours through the north-eastern communities of cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore.
The Centre, on Friday, banned bulk SMs-es and MMS-es, so the same text message or video cannot be sent by phone to more than five recipients.
Story first published:
August 20, 2012 09:27 IST