Police arrest 10 over latest lynching murder

New Delhi: Police said Tuesday that 10 people had been arrested over the murder of a man accused of kidnapping children in the latest lynching linked to rumours circulating on WhatsApp.

More than 20 people have been killed in similar attacks across India in the past three months leaving local authorities, as well as Facebook-owned WhatsApp, scrambling for solutions.

Police said the latest victim was murdered on July 28, but villagers only discovered his decomposing body down a well nearly a week later.

The 29-year-old was set upon in Dindori district in Madhya Pradesh state by a mob wielding iron bars and bamboo rods.

“The attackers threw the body in a well and fled,” Dindori police chief Kartikeyan K told AFP.

He said local residents grew suspicious of the victim, who was from a neighbouring district, after rumours spread on WhatsApp about child kidnappers and organ harvesters prowling the area.

Another three suspects are being sought, Kartikeyan said.

The murder comes just three weeks after a woman was brutally killed by a mob in the same state over the same falsehood shared on social media.

The unidentified woman was murdered on July 19 after villagers suspected her of being a child kidnapper.

Lynchings are nothing new in India, but the spread of smartphones to even the most remote corners has enabled rumours to be shared at lightning speed and in huge volumes.

The spate of attacks related to hoaxes about child abduction gangs began last year in Jharkhand state with the emergence of a video that has since spread across India.

At least 23 people have been killed since February for similar reasons, provoking calls for intervention to curb the violence.

Last month the Indian government threatened WhatsApp with legal action, saying it “cannot evade responsibility and accountability” for the malicious rumours.

WhatsApp responded by increasing the number of steps required before a message can be forwarded, and limiting the number of recipients it can be forwarded to.

The instant messaging giant issued newspaper adverts in India — its largest global market — sharing tips on how to spot misinformation and rumours.