The Lucknow Police and the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) on Friday arrested a 52-year-old activist for allegedly circulating WhatsApp texts asking people to observe special prayers in mosques across the country and raise black flags at their homes to protest against French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent statements on Islam.
Mohammad Naeem Siddiqui was taken into custody from his house and moved to the Hasanganj police station. An FIR against him and other unidentified people has been registered at the Sarojini Nagar station.
Siddiqui’s family alleged police brutality during the operation — a charge denied by an officer. Additional Director General (ADG-ATS) Dhruv Kant Thakur told The Indian Express that the ATS was just providing technical support to the police.
“The Lucknow Police is registering an FIR against him for inciting people to protest against French President Emmanuel Macron and his statements. The accused runs an NGO, called Bhartiya Awami Morcha, and was sending WhatsApp texts on several numbers asking people to observe special prayers in all mosques on Friday and raise black flags in their houses and shops against the President and the madness of our government. In the texts, he was asking people to pray against the oppressors and the enemies of the faith, and urging them to destroy such forces,” said Thakur, adding that the ATS helped the police trace the accused since it only had his name and phone number.
“ATS officials were also present there [at his house]. The rest is done by the Lucknow Police, including registering the case, as this is a law-and-order issue. In the coming days, we will provide more help and assistance if asked,” the officer added.
Contradicting Thakur, Hasanganj Station House Officer Amar Nath Verma said the “special forces” — a reference to the ATS — carried out the operation of taking Siddiqui into custody.
“When the matter seemed going out of hand and people started creating ruckus, we were called to the spot,” he said in the morning. Before handing over the accused to the police, the ATS reportedly questioned him.
DCP (central) Somen Barma said the FIR was registered under IPC sections 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups), 505 (statements conducive to public mischief) and 120B (criminal conspiracy).
Siddiqui’s daughter Zainab, a social activist, alleged that the police personnel beat up women with canes and detained her father without any explanation. In a video making the rounds on social media, a few policemen can be seen using force while a woman is heard abusing them.
“Around 5.30 pm, the police came to my house and showing my photograph asked if I was involved in the anti-CAA protest. I was not at home, and my father denied my involvement. The police personnel left. But when I came back around an hour later, they reached my house and caught my father who had returned from namaz. I kept asking who they were and why they were arresting my father. The policemen beat up my minor sister and my brothers. They beat up women with sticks and abused us,” Zainab said.
DCP Barma denied the allegations and claimed no force was used.
Protests broke out across Islamic countries and others where Muslims have a sizable presence, including India, after a French schoolteacher last month showed satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of Prophet Mohammed in a classroom. Drawing images of Muhammad is prohibited in Islamic tradition. The teacher was beheaded days later. Defending free speech, President Macron said France would not forgo its right to caricature. A few weeks later, three more persons were killed in a knife attack in the city of Nice. The attack was also linked to the Hebdo caricatures.
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