New Delhi (AFP) – Indian police have arrested 15 men after the latest in a spate of lynchings incited by rumours spread on WhatsApp of strangers abducting children, an officer said Sunday.
A mob in a mainly tribal area of the northeastern state of Assam pulled two men out of their car on Friday night and beat them to death before police could arrive.
A video on YouTube shows the badly bruised and bleeding men pleading for their lives.
The two friends, residents of Guwahati city in the state, were returning from a picnic spot.
“We have arrested 15 persons. We have also zeroed in on a couple of people who recorded and uploaded the video,” senior state police official Mukesh Agrawal told AFP.
“The villagers got suspicious of the strangers as for the last three or four days messages were going around on WhatsApp, as well as through word of mouth, about child lifters roaming the area,” the officer said.
India has seen a string of similar vigilante mob killings sparked by fake news — often looking like newspaper clippings — circulated on social media.
Last month six people were killed in separate incidents in southern India prompted by rumours about a child kidnapping gang.
And last year eight men were killed in similar attacks in Jharkhand state in the east.
Experts say false news spreads like wildfire in rural India, with vulnerable and often illiterate first-time smartphone users unable to sift real news from fake.