“Shame on the state government led by @siddaramaiah which is behaving in dictatorial terms in arresting @mvmeet. Ensure to follow the true democratic spirit in fighting us rather than doing a coward act. #ReleaseMaheshHegde”, tweeted Union Minister from Karnataka Anant Kumar Hegde in the aftermath of the arrest of Mahesh Vikram Hegde, the founder of the fake news website Postcard News.
Shame on the state government led by @siddaramaiah which is behaving in dictatorial terms in arresting @mvmeet. Ensure to follow the true democratic spirit in fighting us rather than doing a coward act. #ReleaseMaheshHegde
— Anantkumar Hegde (@AnantkumarH) March 29, 2018
Mahesh Vikram Hegde was arrested on March 29 by the Karnataka police and booked under sections 153A (promoting enmity between groups), 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage sentiments) and 120B(criminal conspiracy) over fake news with communal overtones that Postcard News had posted on its website. Alt News had reported that the Jain sage who Postcard News had alleged was attacked by Muslim youth, was actually injured in an accident. It was this story that led to Hegde’s arrest.
Following his arrest, Hegde has found extensive and unprecedented support within the right-wing ecosystem on social media led by none other than lawmakers and members of the BJP. BJP MP from East Delhi and BJP National Secretary Mahesh Girri was among those who tweeted in his support, slamming the Siddaramaiah Govt and the Congress party.
The arrest of @mvmeet & FIR on many other nationalist tweeples in Karnataka is a shameless act of @siddaramaiah govt. It shows @INCIndia & @RahulGandhi‘s contempt for constitutional values like Tolerance & Freedom of Expression.
— Maheish Girri (@MaheishGirri) March 29, 2018
Earlier on March 29, BJP MP from Karnataka Pratap Simha had tweeted about Hegde’s arrest and slammed Karnataka Congress.
— Pratap Simha (@mepratap) March 29, 2018
Prakash S. who is the spokesperson of Karnataka BJP sympathised with Hegde and attacked Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah.
Dirty Siddaramiah govt attempt to muzzle mute free voice vl b decisively defeated.Shame on u Siddu #ReleaseMaheshHegde
— Prakash.s. (@sprakaashbjp) March 29, 2018
General Secretary of Karnataka BJP C.T Ravi also tweeted multiple times in support of ‘nationalist’ Hegde.
Freedom of Expression provided to “Bharat Tere Tukde Karenge Brigade” has been denied to a Nationalist @mvmeet who wrote against the CONgress.
— C.T.Ravi (@CTRavi_BJP) March 29, 2018
Kapil Mishra, MLA from Delhi who had a fallout with the AAP leadership, tweeted in support of Hegde.
Why @mvmeet is arrested?
…सब किरायेदार हैं घर बदलते रहते हैं!#ReleaseMaheshHegde Now
— Kapil Mishra (@KapilMishra_IND) March 29, 2018
Right-wing social media users joined the chorus, tweeting vigorously to defend Mahesh Hegde and alleging that the Karnataka Government was indulging in petty politics. Most of these tweets had the common hashtags #ReleaseMaheshHegde and #ISupportMaheshHegde, suggesting a synchronised social media campaign in favour of the arrested fake news website founder. Pro-BJP Facebook pages and WhatsApp groups also appealed for trending #ReleaseMaheshHegde on social media.
The claim that freedom of expression (FOE) was being stifled was a common narrative in many of these tweets. Some of them also resorted to whataboutery.
Really scared to how Congress is hounding Mahesh Hegde. If fake news was the reason, hundreds of journalists from propaganda websites who create fake news on Dalit and Mulsim suppression should have been arrested. This is what will happen if Congress comes back in power.
— Rahul Raj (@bhak_sala) March 30, 2018
— Priti Gandhi (@MrsGandhi) March 29, 2018
According to my sources Karnataka Congress high level people are involved behind his arrest. They tried simiar tactics against @TajinderBagga. They want to break our resolve! We will give then hell!! #ReleaseMaheshHegde
— Vikas Pandey (@MODIfiedVikas) March 29, 2018
State of emergency in Karnataka where freedom of speech is curbed by shooting the messenger.
Where is Intolerance, Award Wapsi gang & FOE gang? #ReleaseMaheshHegde
— Shashi Kumar (@iShashiShekhar) March 29, 2018
Arrest of Mahesh bhai proves from whom the danger of emergency looms #ReleaseMaheshHegde
— Sriram (@srirambjp) March 29, 2018
It is a clear message to all Right Wing and Nationalist. No matter what our personal differences are, Arrest of Mahesh is a clear message that we have to stand united and defeat this Congress game of fixing people to silence them on Social Media#ReleaseMaheshHegde
— #GauravPradhan 🇮🇳 (@DrGPradhan) March 29, 2018
It is unfortunate that Karnataka Congress govt has gone to this extent by Arresting @mvmeet , founder and editor of @postcard_news . This kind of #TargetNamoSupporters will cost heavily to congress in this election season#ReleaseMaheshHegde pic.twitter.com/UqkNGmxa5w
— Ajay Pratap Singh Sengar (@sengarajay235) March 29, 2018
Thugs at INC Karnataka instructed & got Mahesh Hegde of postcard news arrested. Fascism is in their DNA. RaGa gives faltu gyan that he is samvedansheel and listens to ppl. His party executes real agenda. Bas 1 aur mahina. 😡
— Ashu😎 (@muglikar_) March 29, 2018
So @CMofKarnatakais is afraid of BJP supporters so much that he got @mvmeet arrested on false charges of spreading fake news while fake news masters bunty bubbly, Baingan aunty , Chota jain, Radia queen , couptaji , Nidhi bibi and the rest are roaming free #ReleaseMaheshHegde
— Connected MRI (@ExSecular) March 29, 2018
All the above accounts are followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter. Sonam Mahajan, who Alt News has exposed on multiple occasions for spreading fake news on social media too tweeted in support of Hegde.
Horrified to know that the Karnataka Congress has falsely implicated Mahesh Hegde who runs post card. Never been a fan of his portal but it’s such a shame that they have managed to arrest him while all that the BJP is doing is chest-thumping, trending. No spine. No sincerity.
— Sonam Mahajan (@AsYouNotWish) March 29, 2018
Such unity within the right-wing ecosystem on social media may be unprecedented but hardly surprising. Postcard News has often been promoted by prominent BJP leaders including Kiren Rijiju and Piyush Goyal among others who have shared articles posted on the website. Alt News had earlier published a detailed article in this regard. Most of the write-ups on Postcard News are either blatantly provocative or loaded with false information, but the website is hugely popular with the right-wing as a result of which Hegde’s arrest has expectedly been met with consternation.
At such times when fake news has reached the extent of causing fatalities, senior members of the BJP openly coming out in support of the founder of a serial fake news website illustrates the grave challenge of combating fake news in India. Alt News had exposed Postcard News on numerous occasions for routinely spreading false information and malicious propaganda in the garb of news and we will continue to be vigilant in tracking and exposing any kind of misinformation/disinformation.
Independent journalism that speaks truth to power and is free of corporate and political control is possible only when people start contributing towards the same. Please consider donating towards this endeavour to fight fake news and misinformation.