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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Women’s doctored photos online: IT minister orders probe, FIR registered

🔴 Two FIRs were filed by the Delhi and Uttar Pradesh Police in the Sulli Deals incident last year after photos of Muslim women were misused, but no concrete action has been taken against the perpetrators so far.

Written by Aashish Aryan , Jignasa Sinha | New Delhi |
Updated: January 3, 2022 10:17:51 am
Minister for Electronics and IT Ashwini Vaishnaw. (Express photo by Abhinav Saha/File)

The government has asked cyber security and law enforcement agencies to investigate complaints that a website had hosted doctored, “lewd” pictures and objectionable comments “aimed at insulting Muslim women”.

The Indian Computer Emergency Response System (Cert-In), the nodal agency for monitoring cyber security incidents and related threats, has been asked to form “a high level committee” to probe the incident, and to co-ordinate with the cyber cells of state police forces, senior government officials said.

Late on Saturday night, Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw had tweeted that GitHub, the coding platform on which the said app was hosted, had blocked the user, and Cert-In and police were “co-coordinating further action”.

On Sunday, in a separate tweet, Vaishnaw said that the government was “working with police organisations in Delhi and Mumbai on this matter”.

On Sunday, separate FIRs were registered in the case by police in Delhi and Mumbai. Besides the unknown persons who developed the app, Mumbai Police also booked certain Twitter handles that disseminated the content on charges of stalking, defamation, promoting enmity, and posting lewd comments.

The National Commission for Women (NCW) has written to Delhi Police Commissioner Rakesh Asthana seeking immediate action in the case.

“@NCWIndia has taken cognizance of this incident. Chairperson @sharmarekha has written to @CPDelhi to immediately register FIR in the matter. The process must be expedited so that such crime is not repeated,” the commission posted on Twitter.

Twitter has suspended an account that had been sharing links to the app hosted on GitHub. The Twitter handle had the same name as the objectionable app. Twitter did not respond to emails seeking comments on the account and its suspension.

Earlier in June 2021, another app with a name similar to the one currently under investigation had appeared on GitHub with pictures of Muslim women captioned “deal of the day”.

Subsequently, on July 7 and 8, police in Noida and Delhi had registered separate FIRs against unknown persons in the case, but there has been no progress in the investigations.

On Sunday, NCW, responding to a woman journalist’s post on Twitter that the current sexual harassment on Muslim women online was a “new version” of the earlier targeting, tweeted: “The action taken in both the cases must be apprised to the Commission at the earliest.”

Doctored photos of at least 100 Muslim women, along with lewd remarks and comments, were posted online this week. GitHub subsequently removed the content, but many Twitter users tagged the women and posted screenshots of the webpage.

In her complaint to police on Saturday, a Delhi-based journalist accused unknown persons of promoting enmity, sexual harassment, and insulting women.

“I was shocked to find…that a website/portal…had a doctored picture of me in an improper unacceptable and clearly lewd context… The…content…is clearly aimed at insulting Muslim women…and the entire website seems to have been designed with the intent of embarrassing and insulting Muslim women,” she said.

“This is nothing short of online harassment and the tweet referred to herein is per se liable for criminal action. The said ‘GitHub’ is violent, threatening and intending to create a feeling of fear and shame in my mind as well as in the minds of women in general, and the Muslim community, whose women are being targeted in this hateful manner. In fact, this website has been targeting other Muslim women as well…,” the complaint said.

On Saturday, Delhi Police had said they were “looking into” the woman journalist’s complaint and would take “appropriate legal action”.

Based on the complaint, a case under IPC Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on the ground of religion and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration), 354A (sexual harassment) and 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) has been registered.

Sources in the cyber cell claimed they had identified some accounts in connection with the objectionable posts, which were deactivated following the police complaint.

Many of the women had been targeted in the earlier case as well. A senior Delhi Police officer said the earlier case had stalled because GitHub had not cooperated.

“We wrote to them and sent them a legal notice about the case. The GitHub officials asked us to follow MLAT (Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty) guidelines and we should have got a reply by now,” the officer said.

According to the officer, “When we first sent them notices, they asked us to follow the guidelines. We again sent a request and they forwarded it to their legal cell. They said some documents were missing and we had to apply again. We have also approached the Home Ministry to push for an investigation from their (company’s) side. Since their office is not in India and it’s a US-headquartered company, we can’t push much.”

Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi, who amplified the women’s complaints on social media, said she had raised the issue of the targeting of women of a particular religious community in July as well, and had been told that the site had been blocked.

Maharashtra Women’s Commission chairperson Rupali Chakankar said, “This app is meant to disturb communal harmony.”

Maharashtra Minister of State for Home (Urban) Satej Patil tweeted: “Digital platforms like these are rife with misogyny and communal hatred aimed at women. This is very disturbing and shameful. Maharashtra Govt. is taking strong actions against such platforms. I have instructed @MahaCyber1 for the same & they are on it.”

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