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Government officer, scribe among four held for 'communalising' Twitter posts on COVID-19 in Andamans

Journalist Zubair Ahmed was arrested over a tweet where he questioned the rationale of the authorities allegedly asking people to be home-quarantined after they had phoned COVID-19 patients.

Published: 29th April 2020 08:28 PM  |   Last Updated: 29th April 2020 09:44 PM   |  A+A-

Journalist Zubair Ahmed was one among those arrested in Andamans

Journalist Zubair Ahmed was one among those arrested in Andamans. (Photo| Twitter)

By PTI

PORT BLAIR: A government officer, a journalist, the son of a police constable and the wife of a fireman were arrested over the past few days in Andaman and Nicobar Islands for alleged communal posts on social media amid the coronavirus outbreak, police said on Wednesday.

These people were arrested for trying to "communalise" the situation when the civil administration and police are working round-the-clock in the fight against the pandemic, Director General of Police Dependra Pathak told PTI.

Md Yunus, an extension officer in the South Andaman Deputy Commissioner's office, was arrested on April 25 for a tweet that had the potential of spreading tension between communities, the state police said in a statement.

He was charged under sections 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) and 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life), besides Section 51 (punishment for obstruction) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

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The son of a constable was also arrested on Friday for insinuating that COVID-19 was being spread by a particular community. He was booked under section 505 (1) of the IPC that deals with publishing or circulating any statement, rumour or report, the police statement said.

A fireman's wife, identified as Mehrose, was arrested for posting a "communally instigating" message in a WhatsApp group. She was charged under sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 188 and 505 of the IPC, besides 51B of the Disaster Management Act.

Journalist Zubair Ahmed was arrested on Monday over a tweet where he questioned the rationale of the authorities allegedly asking people to be home-quarantined after they had spoken to COVID-19 patients by phone, the statement said.

All were later enlarged on bail. Ahmed, the editor of now-defunct 'Light of Andaman', a weekly newspaper, was summoned to the Bambooflat police station in South Andaman district on April 27 for questioning and arrested.

He was taken to the Aberdeen police station where he spent the night in a lockup. "Can someone explain why families are placed under home quarantine for speaking over phone with Covid patients?" he tweeted on Monday, tagging the local administration.

In another tweet a day earlier, he said: "Request #Covid19 quarantined persons not to call any acquaintance over phone. People are being traced and quarantined on the basis of phone calls."

He was charged under IPC sections 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and 505 (1) that relates to publishing or circulating any statement, rumour or report.

Besides, sections 51 and 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, were also slapped. While Section 51 deals with punishment for obstruction, Section 54 pertains to punishment for false warning. He was produced before a court on Tuesday afternoon which granted him bail.

DGP Pathak claimed that Ahmed was arrested not only for his tweet but also for contacting people of the Bambooflat area, a COVID-19 hotspot, and asking them not to cooperate with police. "The administration devised several strategies to locate those who came in contact with COVID-19 patients. One of those was finding out mobile tower locations. We located the mobile towers and traced the contacts," he said.

"In a way, I will say the administration overreacted, and rightly so, to identify the people who came in contact with the COVID-19 patients and contain the spread of the virus in the area," the officer said.

Pathak alleged Ahmed spread "mischevious and malicious" information to hamper the administration's efforts in the fight against COVID-19.

"He was asking people not to meet officials or they will be taken to quarantine. Quarantining is not a punishment. His messages were supposed to defeat the efforts of the administration. He is not a journalist. He is a social media activist and blogger," the officer said.

"No one can say that we have targeted Ahmed. We have taken action against government employees and their relatives. If someone spreads any wrong information amid this crisis, we will take strong action," he asserted.

Besides, the editor of the Andaman Express newspaper K Ganesan was also issued a show-cause notice by the administration for "mixing" some tweets of the chief secretary with other content in a report which, officials claimed, sent out a "wrong message" amid the crisis.

"The action was taken against me because I spoke out against the arrest of Ahmed," Ganesan, also the president of the Andaman and Nicobar Media Federation, told PTI. The editor of 'The Daily Telegrams', the administration's mouthpiece, was also suspended for "serious lapses" a few days back, officials said.

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