A tale of untruths and innuendo by Major Gaurav Arya and Major Surendra Poonia

On March 3, Republic TV published a report claiming that Baloch Republic Army (BRA) had attacked and destroyed 3 Pakistani Army posts. It was claimed that BRA fighters attacked the Pakistani Army outpost in Mand area of Kech district on February 27, 2019.

A few days later, two Indian army veterans, Major Surendra Poonia and Major Gaurav Arya posted a video with two different claims on Twitter. Poonia tweeted on March 12, while Arya tweeted the same video on March 14. In the video, multiple semi-clad uniformed men, who are blind-folded and have their hands tied behind their back, can be seen being beaten-up by two men in uniform. Both their tweets claimed that the video is related to the alleged attack by BRA fighters on Pakistani army outposts. Poonia’s tweet claimed that the uniformed men being beaten up are Baloch freedom fighters while Arya’s tweet claimed that the men being beaten up are members of Frontier corps, Pakistan’s paramilitary force.

Later Poonia deleted his tweet, an archived version of which can be accessed here. Major Gaurav Arya’s tweet can be seen below.

As can be seen above, Poonia claimed that the video represented human rights violation of Baloch freedom fighters at the hands of the Pakistani army while Arya claimed that the video showed members of Frontier corps being thrashed by Pakistani army personnel after the former had deserted their post when attacked by Baloch fighters.

It goes without saying that both claims cannot be correct. In fact, Alt News found out that both the claims are false. After Alt News fact-checked their claims, the two Army veterans put out multiple tweets and Facebook posts challenging the Alt News fact-check. This post delves into their counter-claims and the allegations/innuendos that they made in their follow-up.

Alt News’ fact-check

Alt News had fact-checked the video and established that both Arya’s and Poonia’s claims are false. Arya claimed that the incident depicted in the video had occurred on February 27, whereas Alt News found that the same video had existed online at least 22 days earlier i.e on February 5, when it had been uploaded on YouTube. According to Republic TV‘s report, the alleged attack by BRA fighters on Pakistan outposts happened on February 27. Thus the video that both Poonia and Arya posted cannot be representative of that attack.

Moreover, the claim made by both Arya and Poonia was false, as the video depicted a training module of the Pakistani army who were seemingly undergoing a torture-proofing exercise. Alt News’ fact-check can be read here.

Arya, Poonia brazen it out

Unfazed by the fact that their claims were misplaced, Major Gaurav Arya and Major Surendra Poonia defended themselves vehemently, speaking in one voice.

The above tweet by Poonia was retweeted by Arya, who further tweeted, asking why Alt News is “defending Pakistani army so aggressively?“, oblivious to the fact that his claim with regard to the video was misleading.

Major Gaurav Arya also wrote a Facebook post in which he claimed to have spoken to some unnamed friends of his in Para SF who suggested that it is ludicrous to claim that Pakistan Army trains in the manner depicted in the video. In his post, he also quoted Poonia stating, “I have never, ever heard of this danda parade in SF”.

However, Alt News found multiple videos of Pakistan from the past which match the videos posted by Arya and Poonia in many ways. In all these videos, the men who are being beaten up are blind-folded and have their hands tied behind their back. The men who are torturing are all uniformed. – and the men who are tortured are lined up in identical gear

This is a 2 and a half minute video posted on YouTube in March 2018 titled “SSG training survival moments 2018“.

This is 10 minute video posted on YouTube in September 2017 labelled as “SSG training video“.

This is a 2 minute video posted in February 2018 labelled as “SSG Commando training“.

This is a 13 minute video uploaded to YouTube in January 2017 labelled as “SSG Commandos survival“.

This is a 3 minute video labelled as “Pakistan Army SSG Commandos Training Special Documentary” and uploaded in August 2017.

We also found other videos on social media platforms which show uniformed men being beaten up in an organised manner, again being shared with the narrative that these are Baloch being tortured.

In all of the above videos, the common pattern that can be seen is uniformed men beating up other uniformed men in an organised manner. The similarity across multiple videos that have been leaked across different years suggests that it is a training regime, and not a one-off video as claimed by Arya and Poonia’s tweet.

Other instances of misinformation

This isn’t the first time Major Gaurav Arya or Major Surendra Poonia have put out misinformation on social media. There have been multiple such instances.

1. In March 2017, Arya tweeted an image of a pathology report, claiming it to be the report of Syed Salahuddin, a Kashmiri separatist militant and the head of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. The report claimed that Salahuddin had contracted HIV. We found that the image was a photoshopped image made from a sample available online. The photo of Salahuddin used in the report was a PTI file photo.

2. In February 2017, Arya tweeted two images claiming it to be Pakistan Army executing Baloch fighters. Alt News found that the images were of November 2009. The image on the left was credited to AFP and was of Pakistan troops seizing Taliban militants. The same image was published by Guardian in 2010, with the same description and credits. The image on the right had the same soldiers and Talibani militants as the image on the left, and thus represented the same incident.

3. In June 2017, during the Gorkha protest, Arya circulated the image of a bloodied man with the text, “@MamataOfficial Please treat Gurkhas of Darjeeling with respect & honour. You have seen them in peace. You are very fortunate.” It turned out that the image was of Col DK Rai who commanded the 6/8 Gorkha Rifles. He was attacked by the police during the Gorkhaland protest in 2008 and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the veteran CPI(M) leader, was the chief minister of West Bengal at that point of time.

Major Gaurav Arya had responded to the Alt News fact-check on the right-wing portal OpIndia to which Alt News had responded here.

4. In Aug 2017, Poonia had tweeted a video and claimed that Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s supporter was smuggling heroin by stuffing it inside onion.

Fact-checking website SMHoaxSlayer had fact-checked this video and found it to be a 2 year old video from Saudi Arabia.

False allegations

While Major Surendra Poonia deleted his own tweet without an iota of explanation, he posted a tweet question funding of Alt News. He also posted a Facebook post questioning, “Why do You trust Pakistanis more than #MajorGauravArya? Reason ?? Funds कम पड़ गये क्या? किसके लिये पर काम कर रहे हो ? (Are you low on funds? Who are you working for -translated)

It is very common for people whom Alt News has fact-checked to question Alt News funding. However, the fact that such defamatory innuendo is coming from a retired Army personnel is unfortunate. Alt News operates under the aegis of Pravda Media Foundation, a registered not-for-profit company and the funding details of Pravda Media Foundation are available on our website.

Facts are not malleable. While Poonia quietly deleted his tweet, he also continued to defend Arya’s tweet which had the same video. Arya claimed that the video he tweeted represented an incident which took place on February 27, whereas the same video was available online at least three weeks prior. Neither Arya nor Poonia presented any evidence except for ‘unnamed sources’.

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