The religious persecution of Hindus in the Muslim-majority country of Bangladesh is not a new phenomenon. Frivolous allegations of blasphemy are used by Islamists to harass and maim the minority Hindu community. In one such recent incident, a Hindu girl named Tithy Sarker went missing on October 25 after she was accused of making blasphemous comments against Islam and Prophet Muhammad.
Following social media outrage, she was issued a temporary suspension order by her college on October 23 for 10 days and was asked to explain reasons for not expelling her permanently. Tithy went to the Pallabi police station on Sunday morning and was then supposed to visit the nearby Durga Puja mandap, but has not return home since then. Kazi Wazed Ali, the station-in-charge, informed that the search for Tithy was underway and added that the girl had come to the police station on Sunday to file a complaint about her Facebook account being hacked.
However, an Indian ‘fact-checking’ website Newschecker.in made a firm resolve to throw her to the wolves, who are in the hunt for opportunities to harass Hindus. The shady website has been accredited by ICFN, a unit of the Poynter Institute, which claims to identify and support fact-checkers worldwide through promotion of best practices. However, in reality, it has been accused of observing dual standards in granting its “code of principles” to the applicants.
Debunking the misleading factcheck of Newschecker
In the case of Tithy Sarker, the ICFN certified Newschecker resorted to peddling one-sided narrative to implicate that Tithy Sarker was guilty of blasphemy and therefore invited the wrath on herself. The website published an article in Bengali on October 27, two days after Tithy’s disappearance, to ascertain that she had indeed made objectionable remarks against Islam. The article titled, “Tithy Sarkar has not been framed falsely, she has been suspended from university for anti-religious comment on social media” went on to fact-check a Facebook post by Bangladesh Jatiya Hindu Jubo Mohajot (Khulna Jela).
The Facebook page had alleged that the girl was being falsely implicated in the blasphemy case. The post had published her side of the story. She informed that her father had been sick for several days and that she had been busy looking after him, amidst Durga Puja. Tithy clarified that she did not get time to login into Facebook. She had alleged that a miscreant, belonging to the anti-Hindu lobby, hacked her account and posted derogatory anti-Islamic comments on several Facebook groups from her account.
Under the garb of ascertaining the truth, Factchecker quoted only the first two lines of the Facebook and left out the testimony of Tithy Sarker. The website then cited reports from mainstream media to claim that she was not framed and that she herself made those remarks. It is important to point out that the Facebook post by the Hindu group and the testimony of the girl did not imply that objectionable comments were not made against Islam and Prophet Muhammad. The post had highlighted that Tithy’s Facebook account was hacked and that the comments were made by an anti-Hindu miscreant to frame her.
By ignoring Tithy’s assertion that her Facebook post was hacked, newschecker.in seemed to imply that the girl, who is missing now, had lied, as they claimed that she herself had posted the objectionable posts.
It may be noted that the Facebook post by Bangladesh Jatiya Hindu Jubo Mohajot was posted on 26th October, where they said that they contacted her earlier in the day, that would mean one day after she went missing. This discrepancy is there as the people who run the page actually didn’t contact her, they just copy-pasted the post which was originally posted on 24th October by someone else, one day before Tithy went missing.
It was posted by one Facebook user named Anukul Bromon in multiple Facebook groups, after which the same was copy-pasted by several others in the subsequent days, including the page fact-checked by Newschecker. The post said that Tithy had told the user that her Facebook account was hacked and she didn’t post any blasphemous comment on social media as alleged.
Newschecker paved the path for the harassment of the Hindu girl
Without evaluating the hacking angle and deliberately ignoring the girl’s testimony, Factchecker passed a verdict on the case based on its predispositions and media reports. The selective cherry-picking of facts thereby gave an opportunity to radical Islamists in Bangladesh to discredit her side of the story, as the so-called fact check had been done by an ICFN-credited website. Despite being well aware that the lives of Hindus are threatened in the fanatic society of Bangladesh, this Indian fact-checking website has given way for Tithy’s harassment. To add salt to the wound, Newschecker has not even bothered to update their article with the latest developments in the case and thereby endangering the life of the missing girl.
The price of unproven allegations of blasphemy is death
Radicalism is on the rise in the Muslim-majority nation of Bangladesh. Taking the dangerous route of its erstwhile Muslim brother nation Pakistan, Islamists are killing fellow Muslims on unproven charges of blasphemy. On Thursday, a man was lynched to death by a fanatic mob on the premises of Burimari Union Parishad at Patgram Upazila in Lalmonirhat district of Rangpur Division in Bangladesh over charges of blasphemy.
As per reports, the deceased was identified as a 50-year old Shahidunnabi Jewel. A resident of Rangpur and an ex-employee of Rangpur Cantonment Public School, Jewel was said to be suffering from a mental condition. The victim, accompanied by his friend Sultan Jubaer Abbas had gone to Burimari Jam-e Masjid to offer Asr Namaaz. They had claimed that Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen terrorists were hiding inside the mosque. The duo wanted to check the bookshelf inside the mosque. However, the locals alleged that they failed to uphold the ‘sanctity’ of the Quran and detained the two. Activist Taslima Nasreen said on Facebook that the crime was triggered after the victim accidentally stepped on the Quran.