A woman, who is suspected to be the main accused behind the app which hosted doctored photographs and objectionable comments targeting Muslim women, was arrested in Uttarakhand on Tuesday.
Police said the woman is “over 18 years old”. Confirming the arrest, Uttarakhand DGP Ashok Kumar told The Indian Express: “As per our information the woman, identified as Shweta Singh, hails from Bulandshahr district in Uttar Pradesh and belongs to an economically weaker family. While we cannot say much about her exact involvement in the case, she allegedly created some fake IDs to commit the crime.”
The woman was arrested from Udham Singh Nagar in Uttarakhand after the arrival of a Mumbai Police team. “The Uttarakhand Police only provided assistance to the Mumbai Police team by sending one of our woman constables to arrest the accused. The Mumbai team sought assistance to arrest her, which we provided. The team then produced her before a local court for a transit remand, to take her to Mumbai for interrogation,” said the DGP.
Mumbai Police sources said the woman was identified based on information revealed by the 21-year-old engineering student, Vishal Kumar Jha, who was detained from Bengaluru and brought to Mumbai late on Monday. The duo are suspected to be part of a larger group.
— ANI (@ANI) January 4, 2022
According to police sources, Jha, who has been arrested, and the woman became friends on social media and created the app together. “Four Twitter accounts were used to upload pictures on social media, of which three accounts were being handled by the woman, while the fourth account was being managed by Jha,” said a senior police officer.
Investigating officers said Jha created an account with the name “Khalsa Supremacist”, to mislead others into believing that it was being operated by a non-Hindu. “In order to make the account look more genuine, they created a few fake Twitter accounts under Sikh names, all of which followed ‘Khalsa Supremacist’,” said an officer. On December 31, they changed the name of one of their handles to “Justice for Sikh”, said sources.
Meanwhile, Jha, who is from Bihar, was produced before a magistrate court in Mumbai which conducted in-camera proceedings on Tuesday afternoon. He was sent to police custody till January 10.
“The police, in their remand application, said they want to conduct searches at his residence and collect documents related to the case. They said there are more accused in the case and hence the proceedings were conducted behind closed doors,” said Jha’s advocate, Dinesh Pragmati.
Jha was studying in a well-known engineering college in South Bengaluru. The head of the department of the college where he was studying said Jha had been on campus since October 4, when offline classes resumed.
“A group of people came to the college around 11.30 am on Monday and introduced themselves as policemen. They showed their ID cards and asked for Vishal and explained briefly about the case. He was attending a class and was called to the faculty chamber from where he was taken into custody,” said the faculty member.
He said Jha was an average student and was in the third semester of an engineering programme. “We started offline classes from October 4, and he started attending classes since then. He is a resident of Bihar and we have no idea about his activities. His attendance was 60 per cent and, as per the protocol of the college, we informed his parents about the police taking him to Mumbai,” the HoD said.
Based on a complaint filed by one of the women targeted by the app, the Mumbai Police Crime Branch’s cyber police station (west) had lodged an FIR on January 2 against unknown persons who developed the app and some Twitter handles that disseminated its content, under IPC Sections 153 (A) (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion), 153 (B) (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration), 295(A) (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings), 354 D (stalking), 509 (insulting modesty) and 500 (defamation), and Section 67 (transmitting obscene content in electronic form) of the IT Act.
The app was hosted on US-based GitHub on December 31. Doctored photos of at least 100 Muslim women, along with lewd remarks and comments, were posted online.
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 coordinate with the cyber cells of state police forces.