False posts claim 'Hindus posing as Muslims arrested for praying' in new Indian shopping mall

·4 min read

After a video of a group of people performing Muslim prayers in a new mall in Hindu-majority India circulated online in July 2022, social media posts shared hundreds of times claimed it had been a stunt to rile up religious tensions and "Hindus posing as Muslims" had been arrested. However, the claim is false: the posts included the names of suspects that police arrested in a separate case. Local police told AFP the four people arrested for unauthorised praying on the mall premises were all Muslims.

The Hindi-language claim was shared on Facebook here on July 18, 2022 by a page with more than 177,000 followers.

It translates to English as: "The case of offering namaz in Lulu Mall of Lucknow. Now the names of those who offered namaz are known from CCTV -- Saroj Nath Yogi, Krishna Kumar Pathak, Gaurav Goswami. These people were offering prayers in the mall posing as 'Muslims'.

"Who sent Hindu youths to offer 'namaz' at Lulu Mall in Lucknow? Who always wants to keep the discussion about Hindus and Muslims afloat in this country? We all know the answer but it must be revealed."

The Lulu Mall -- touted as the largest in the country -- opened in Lucknow, capital of the northern Uttar Pradesh state, on July 10. It was inaugurated by the state's firebrand Hindu nationalist leader Yogi Adityanath.

Namaz are Muslim prayers.

The claim was shared alongside a screenshot that appears to show a tweet by the Lucknow police from July 15.

The Hindi-language tweet translates as: "In connection with the attempt to carry out religious activities without permission in Lulu Mall premises - Sushant Golf City Police station."

Screenshot of the false post, taken on July 20, 2022

The claim circulated after a video showing Muslims praying in Lulu Mall drew outrage from some Hindu groups in Hindu-majority India, where communal tensions have run high since remarks by a ruling party official about the Prophet Mohammed in June.

Local media reported on July 24 that seven people have been arrested for performing Muslim prayers in the mall without permission.

The claim was also shared more than 800 times on Facebook here and here.

However, the claim misrepresents a separate arrest report referring to the same location.

Vivek Singh, a spokesperson at the local Sushant Golf City police station, told AFP on July 20 the claim was false.

"The people mentioned in the viral message have nothing to do with the people seen in the viral video performing namaz in the mall," he said.

Singh said the police had separately arrested four others in connection with the Muslim prayers case and that "they are all Muslim".

Separate arrests

Keyword searches found the original tweet from July 15 that was included as a screenshot in the misleading posts.

Although the account is unverified, the Sushant Golf City police said it belonged to them.

The attached image of a Hindi-language press statement reads: "Today, on July 15, 2022, four people of different religions and communities tried to indulge in religious activities in Lulu Mall without permission. Their aim was to deliberately disturb communal harmony. Lucknow commissionerate is already under Section 144 CrPC.

"All four have been arrested and sent to judicial custody, their names are - Saroj Nath Yogi, Krishna Kumar Pathak, Gaurav Goswami and Arshad Ali."

Section 144 CrPC refers to public assembly laws that prevent four or more people from gathering in a specified area.

The names of three out of the four suspects correspond to the three names quoted in the false posts.

Further reverse image and keyword searches found a report by the English-language news outlet India Today from July 15 about a separate group of arrests outside the Lulu Mall.

It is headlined: "Crowd gathers outside Lucknow's Lulu Mall to recite Sundar Kand, 4 arrested."

The report states the four people were arrested for chanting the Hindu prayer Sundar Kand outside the Lulu Mall entrance and detained for violating the public assembly rules.

The India Today article also includes the same screenshot of the press release from the local police.

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