On August 10, Time Now tweeted a video report by journalist Pradeep Dutta. The entire report is shot within the confinement of a mosque where an alleged cleric of the mosque can be seen speaking to a few attendees about the importance of the Indian national flag.

In the seven-minute-long video report, we see the Times Now journalist speak with the alleged cleric as well the attendees, who are very “enthusiastically” listening to the sermons. A total of nine people can be seen in attendance, among which a few of them appear to be senior citizens.

The same report has also been shot in Hindi as well and was tweeted by Times Now Navbharat on the 10th. In the Hindi report, the Times Now reporter refers to the man as “Maulana“. In this report at the 2:20 minute mark, the reporter asks the man if there’s any external pressure on him or if he’s being forced to raise the flag. To which the man responds by saying that there is no pressure on him at the moment.

This video report has been re-shared twice (here and here) by Times Now Navbharat on August 12.

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Analysis of the footage

When one looks at the reportage carefully, the following observations can be made:

  1. The reporter is directly at the centre of the story. He narrates as the sermon is being given.
  2. He interrupts the event and interviews the alleged cleric and members of the audience. It is odd for a reporter to interrupt a public event while he/she is covering in order to take bytes.
  3. The reporter’s conversations with both the alleged cleric and locals comes across as forced, with the reporter leading the conversation.

These elements when seen together portray an uncharacteristic way of reporting a public event.

Local politician, not a cleric

We looked at the comments under the tweets of Times Now. A reply by user Asif Iqbal Butt came to our notice. The user wrote in bullet points alleging that the man seen in the video report is not a cleric but a person affiliated with a political party. In a subsequent reply, the user also hinted that the video is from the Doda district of Jammu.

Taking this clue, we reached out to a few local journalists who identified the alleged cleric as a local politician. As per journalists, the man seen in the video is Mohammad Rafi Sheikh alias Pinka and he works for the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP). They also told us that the video report by Times Now has been shot in the Hidayi Phagsoo Jama Masjid (جامع مسجد ھدای پھگسو).

To probe further, we performed several keyword searches on Facebook and came across news reports featuring Mohammad Rafi. A report from November 2021 mentions Rafi as the ‘Block General Secretary of the APNI Party’. In an interview from September 2021, Rafi can be seen standing next to J&K Apni Party supremo Altaf Bukhari.

Alt News reached out to Mohammad Rafi Sheikh to understand what transpired behind the scene. Speaking to Alt News over a telephonic call Rafi admitted that he is a local politician affiliated with the JKAP. “I am not a cleric, imam or scholar or member of any mosque,” said Rafi.

Rafi also alleged that the Indian Army along with the reporter of Times Now had forced him to raise the flag inside the mosque and give those sermons. We also spoke with Abdul Kabeer (red box below), the naiyib imam (deputy cleric) who was present at the mosque during the time of the shooting. He agreed with the statement that was given to us by Rafi.

Abdul Kabeer (red box) deputy cleric of the mosque

Alt News also came across a twenty-six-minute-long interview given to The Chenab Times by the locals who were present at the mosque. Both Rafi and the naiyib imam also speak during this interview. They reiterate that they were forced by the army to raise the flag inside the mosque.

“On the evening of August 7, a police officer came to my house and asked me to pose with the flag. He told me I am an OGW (Over Ground Worker) and I need to comply, I did as I was told. The next day that is on August 8, army officials called me and asked me about my whereabouts. I told them that I am at my home,” said Rafi.

He further added, “The next time they called me, I was sitting at the shop of my tailor friend near my house. They came to the shop and took me and my friend aside. We were told to speak about the national flag, so we agreed… They gathered a few people and told us to speak about it inside the mosque… We all were reluctant but we complied.”

Alt News spoke with tailor Shafqat (green box below) who was there with Mohammad Rafi. He corroborated Rafi’s claim. “We are villagers, we don’t know what transpires between the army and OGWs. I saw the army and I got scared so I did as I was told,” said Shafqat Hussain.

Tailor Shafqat Hussain (green box)

An army man is indeed visible in the English report of Times Now at the 3:15 minute mark. According to a local, it is not common for the army to be standing outside the mosque. Alt News reached out to the senior army officials stationed in Phagsoo, but they refused to speak on the record and asked us to reach out to the army PRO. The response from the PRO was that they were not aware of such developments.

Army man visible in the English report of Times Now

We also came across a Facebook Live where speaking to journalist Shakeel Raja, a local politician says that an army major told him that it was Rafi’s idea to shoot the video inside the mosque premise. The politician also claims to have spoken with Pinka, with Pinka stating that he did what he did due to coercion. [Watch from 3:10 minutes.]

Alt News has reached out to journalist Pradeep Dutta for his comments on the allegations made by Rafi and the others who were present at the scene. Dutta disconnected our call and has not responded to our messages. The story will be updated if and when Pradeep decides to respond to these allegations.

While there are differing accounts on whether the raising of the national flag inside a mosque in Phagsoo was an act of coercion, it is clear that Times Now misrepresented a location politician as a cleric in its broadcast. Mohammad Rafi Sheikh alias Pinka is not a cleric or a scholar of the mosque. He’s a politician affiliated with the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party (JKAP).

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About the Author

Kalim is a journalist with a keen interest in tech, misinformation, culture, etc