India issues fresh warning to WhatsApp over lynching deaths

This photo taken on June 10, 2018 shows Indian protesters demanding the arrest and punishment of people involved in the killing of two men in Karbi Anglong district, during a protest in Guwahati, the capital city of India’s northeastern state of Assam. (AFP)
Updated 20 July 2018
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India issues fresh warning to WhatsApp over lynching deaths

  • India’s Supreme Court earlier this week asked the government to enact a new law to stem what it called “horrendous acts” of lynching and punish offenders
  • WhatsApp has also bought full-page adverts in Indian newspapers with tips on how to spot misinformation

NEW DELHI: WhatsApp could face legal action in India if it does not take further steps to tackle the spread of false rumors, the government said Thursday, in fresh criticism of the platform over a spate of lynchings.
More than 20 people have been killed by mobs in the past two months across the country after being accused of child kidnapping and other crimes in viral messages circulated on WhatsApp.
Under pressure from authorities to end the spread of “fake news,” the hugely popular smartphone service has introduced new features to help users identify messages that have been forwarded.
But in a strongly worded statement released Thursday, India’s information technology ministry said the action taken was not enough.
“Rampant circulation of irresponsible messages in large volumes on their platform have not been addressed adequately by WhatsApp,” it said.
“When rumors and fake news get propagated by mischief-mongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability.
“If (WhatsApp) remain mute spectators they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action.”
WhatsApp has also bought full-page adverts in Indian newspapers with tips on how to spot misinformation.
But the platform has refused to snoop on user content to help authorities crack down on the issue, citing privacy protection.
In its statement, the ministry called on WhatsApp to enable the “traceability” of provocative or inflammatory messages when an official request is made.
India’s Supreme Court earlier this week asked the government to enact a new law to stem what it called “horrendous acts” of lynching and punish offenders.
Lynchings based on misjudgment or malicious information are not a new phenomenon in India. But the spread of smartphones and Internet access in the country’s poorest and most isolated areas has exacerbated the problem.
An engineer was killed in a mob attack last week in the southern state of Karnataka, while five people were lynched in neighboring Maharashtra on July 1.
The government had taken WhatsApp to task earlier this month for the “irresponsible and explosive messages” being shared among its 200 million Indian users — the company’s largest market.
In response to that criticism, WhatsApp said it was “horrified” by the violence and announced changes that it said would reduce the spread of unwanted messages.


Turkey remains world’s worst offender against press freedom

Updated 13 December 2018
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Turkey remains world’s worst offender against press freedom

  • A report by the Committee to Protect Journalists said that a near-record number of journalists around the world are behind bars for their work
  • The CPJ said there are dozens of reporters missing or kidnapped in the Middle East and North Africa

Turkey remains the world’s worst offender against press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Thursday, with at least 68 journalists imprisoned for anti-state charges.

Turkey has previously said its crackdown is justified because of an attempted coup to overthrow the government in 2016.

The report said that a near-record number of journalists around the world are behind bars for their work, including two Reuters reporters whose imprisonment in Myanmar has drawn international criticism.

There were 251 journalists jailed for doing their jobs as of Dec. 1, the CPJ said in an annual study. For the third consecutive year, more than half are in Turkey, China and Egypt, where authorities have accused reporters of anti-governmental activities.

“It looks like a trend now,” the report’s author, Elana Beiser, said in an interview. “It looks like the new normal.”

The number of journalists imprisoned on charges of “false news” rose to 28, up from 21 last year and nine in 2016, according to the CPJ, a U.S.-based nonprofit that promotes press freedom.

The report criticized U.S. President Donald Trump for frequently characterizing negative media coverage as “fake news,” a phrase that is also used by leaders against their critics in countries like the Philippines and Turkey.

In Egypt, at least 25 journalists are in prison. Authorities say this is to limit dissent are directed at militants trying to undermine the state.

Meanwhile, when asked about journalists being jailed, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said: “Legal measures are not taken because of these suspects’ or criminals’ professions. This is unrelated.”

The overall number of jailed journalists is down eight percent from last year’s record high of 272, the CPJ said.

The total does not take into account journalists who have disappeared or are being held by non-state actors. The CPJ said there are dozens of reporters missing or kidnapped in the Middle East and North Africa, including several held by Houthis in Yemen.

(With Reuters)