Video of 2017 citizenship roll protest falsely shared as ‘Muslim separatist rally’

Footage of police beating protesters with batons has been viewed more than 100,000 times in Facebook posts that claim to show Muslim separatists gathering in the restive Indian state of Assam. However, the video shows protesters marching against a controversial topic citizenship list in Assam in 2017.

“Muslims in Assam took to the streets to demand a separate country, but look what they got in return,” read a Hindi Facebook post shared on April 29.

Assam is an isolated state in northeastern India with a large Muslim and immigrant population. The region has seen decades of unrest among ethnic and separatist groups.

The footage, which has more than 130,000 views, shows police confronting protesters before beating them with batons.

The post said Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is “two steps ahead” of Yogi Adityanath, an incendiary Hindu monk known for his inflammatory rhetoric against Muslims.

Both men are members of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which critics accuse of seeking to marginalize the country’s 200 million strong Muslim minority.

A screenshot of the misleading post, captured on May 10, 2022

Hindi text overlaid in blue on the footage reads “We want India’s freedom”, while text that appears later in the video reads “Now they will start getting beat up” and “Everyone s ran away”.

The video was shared in similar Facebook posts here, here and here.

However, the video does not show a Muslim separatist demonstration in Assam.

Protest against the citizenship list

A keyword search on Google found a screenshot of the video in a report July 2, 2017 about a rally in Assam against a controversial citizenship list.

The NewsClick article reports that a Muslim man was killed when police opened fire on protesters marching against the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

The register was finalized in 2019 in Assam and left 1.9 million people unable to prove they were Indian, many of them Muslims.

Only people who can prove that they or their ancestors were in India before 1971 – when there was a large influx during the war of independence from neighboring Bangladesh – can be included in the list. Those who remain risk losing their citizenship, being incarcerated indefinitely or deported.

This has presented a huge challenge for many people in Assam, where illiteracy is widespread and many lack documentation.

The move sparked violent protests across India in which dozens of people were killed.

Many fear that the BJP wants to roll out the list nationwide, although the government said in November 2021 that it had “taken no decision” to do so.

Below is a comparison of the video shared in misleading Facebook posts (left) and the screenshot from the NewsClick article (right).

Video shared in misleading Facebook posts (L) and screenshot of NewsClick article (R)

The NewsClick article linked to a report by The Wire, which quoted a man named Hussain Ahmed Madani who said he witnessed the shooting.

He said the protesters were “demanding the inclusion of genuine citizens in the NRC”.

The Wire’s report also features a higher quality version of the video shared in misleading posts Madani uploaded to Facebook on June 30, 2017.

The Facebook posts read in Bengali: “Serious situation in Kharbuja of Goalpara. One person killed and others injured after clashes between protesters and police.”

The Wire also cited Goalpara Police Commissioner Amitabh Sinha who said officers opened fire after protesters attacked them.

“The police dispersed the crowd with canes,” he said. “However, the agitators regrouped and started throwing stones at the vehicles passing through the national road, which led to the police opening fire on them. This led to the murder of the youths.”

Meanwhile, the banner carried by the demonstrators reads in Assamese: “Strike on national road number 37, Kharbuja” followed by the date of June 30, 2017.

AFP found no recent reports of protests by Muslim separatists in Assam as of May 10, 2022.

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