By Ayushman Kaul, Devesh Kumar, Naomi Barton / The Wire
The Timeline Of Events:
• Mohammed Zubair was arrested June 27 for a tweet he posted featuring a screenshot from the 1983 film ‘Kissi Se Na Kehna’, where a hotel sign board which originally said ‘Honeymoon’ had been painted over to read ‘Hanuman’.
• Zubair tweeted this in 2018.
• An anonymous account quote tweeted his tweet June 19 with a complaint stating that it was offensive to the Hindu religion.
• The police then took cognizance of this tweet, filing a case against Zubair.
An investigation by The Wire has established that Zubair has been targeted on Twitter by a huge number of coordinated accounts for several years now. These are the top ten points you need to know from our detailed expose, which you can read in full here:
1. The account @balajikijaiin was the complainant whose tweet the Delhi police used to file the case against Zubair. The account was anonymous, with no followers at the time of the complaint, and only one tweet in its record – the one against Zubair. We found that the email-id associated with the account was linked to Vikash Ahir of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha and Hindu Yuva Vahini in Gujarat.
2. There were 8 replica accounts of @balajikijaiin, featuring nominal differences in the usernames but identical profile pictures and Twitter biographies.
The same account later made a similar complaint against Pratik Sinha on June 28, against a tweet of his from 2018. It was the same tweet that Vikash Ahir had tried to file an FIR against Pratik Sinha for in September 2021.
3. We made a list of people by looking at which accounts had targeted these two tweets – the one by Pratik Sinha, and the one by Mohammed Zubair – calling for police action against them. We found that there were 3,699 accounts which had called for their arrest for those two tweets, of which 1,257 accounts (33%) had been calling for their arrest before Zubair was actually arrested on June 27 – which means this targeted campaign was on for some time.
4. There were 757 Twitter accounts linked to Vikash Ahir through the process of Twitter Lists. Each of these accounts were featured on a different list, which also featured Vikash Ahir – a pattern that goes beyond coincidence into choreographed design.
5. Of these 757 accounts linked to Vikash Ahir, 283 accounts exhibited bot like behavior – they were tweeting over 500 times a day, at all hours of the day, using a third party app called Cheap Bots, Done Quick to automate and spam hashtags like #ArrestZubair, #ArrestMohamedZubair and #ArrestBlasphemerMdZubair.
6. In total, there were 18,364 accounts which were trending these hashtags. 62% (11,380) of these accounts were those which were part of the TekFog network – this was the first time since our TekFog investigation that our team found this network being activated again.
7. Vikash Ahir is well connected to the BJP given his position in the BJYM, and his social networks feature photographs of him with major BJP leaders such as Yogi Adityanath, Chandrakant Raghunath Patil, president of the BJP in Gujarat and MP from Navsari and Bhupendra Yadav, Union minister of labour and employment, environment, forest and climate change as well as the national general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
8. He has also made hate speeches against Muslims consistently over the past four years. The top three instances are when:
• He pledged financial support and attempted fundraising to the tune of 10 lakhs for the family of Shambu Lal Regar, the man who hacked and burnt alive a Muslim labourer on camera in 2017, saying that ‘If you do love jihad, we will kill you.’
• He posted a photograph at an event for the ‘Shastra Pooja’ featuring a number of weapons, with a caption saying, “If you don’t read the shastras you will lose your nation, if you don’t pick up your weapons you will lose your faith.”
• He tweeted in support of Jamia Shooter ‘Rambhakt Gopal’ after Gopal was found on video harassing a man at gunpoint alleging cow-smuggling, and aiming his gun at women and children.
9. In summary: Zubair was simultaneously targeted by thousands of TekFog accounts, hundreds of bot accounts affiliated with a man who has extensive links to the BJP as well as a history of hate speech against Muslims, Vikash Ahir, all over a single joke tweet. The Delhi police picked up a random complaint made by an anonymous account which happens to be linked directly via email-id to Vikash Ahir’s personal website.
10. This raises a number of questions about the case against him.
• Why did the Delhi police not identify the automated campaign run against Mohammed Zubair for a 2018 tweet that had not ‘offended’ anyone in four years, and instead accuse Zubair of criminal conspiracy?
• Why has the Delhi police not made public that the ‘anonymous’ complaint was made by an account linked to Vikash Ahir, if they have verified the account as stated in court?
• Given that The Wire has proved unequivocally that this was a malicious campaign conducted over several years by accounts displaying inauthentic behaviour, is the Delhi police as well as the Solicitor General of India making use of a tweet (highlighted by a deliberate and baseless campaign) to dig into Zubair’s personal electronic devices, financial information and hold him in custody?
You can read our detailed story where we outline the methods we used to acquire this information here.
This article first appeared on thewire.in