Bengaluru Central Crime Branch on Thursday evening arrested Mahesh Vikram Hegde, founder of news website Postcardnews, known for spreading fake stories.
Bengaluru Police Commissioner Suneel Kumar confirmed to TNM that Hegde was arrested for a story that he had carried on March 18 claiming that a Jain monk had been attacked.
The arrest was made on the basis of a false news story published on March 18. According to police, a Jain monk who had come for the Shravanabelagola festival had met with an accident on March 13, but Postcard News published a status message on social media stating that he had been attacked by Muslim youth.
He was arrested based on two complaints - one of which was filed on March 18 by Gaffar Baig, the General Secretary Bengaluru District Congress Committee.
Another complaint was filed in Sanjay Nagar against a story published by Postcard News about Rani Chennamma and Onake Obava.
“Yes, it is true, he was arrested based on the Jain muni post. The Jain muni was hit by a bike while he was walking on the road. He was not hit by Muslim youth as claimed by Hegde,” said the police official.
Based on a complaint the police have registered an FIR and are investigating the matter.
A social media post, both by Postcard news and founder Hegde stated, "Very sad news, yesterday in Karantaka Jain muni attacked by muslim youth …. No one is safe in Siddaramaiah’s Karnataka.”
“The Jain muni was hit by a drunk man riding a motor cycle. The Jain muni was on his was to Shravanabelagola for the Mahamatsabhisheka. He had sustained minor injuries on his right shoulder and arm and also on his face. Locals administered first aid and sent them to Shravanabelagola. Upon learning that the Jain Muni was hurt, postcard news published a story alleging that the Jain Muni was attacked by Muslim youth. This was published on social media. Many people have read this story. This was intended to tarnish the reputation of the government and also disrupt communal harmony,” states the FIR.
The Commissioner said that Hegde had been arrested under three sections. He has been arrested under IPC sections 153a (wantonly giving provocation with the intent to cause riot), 34 (common intention) and 120b (for criminal conspiracy), and section 66 (dishonest act) of the Information Technology Act.
The second complaint was filed in the Sanjay Nagar Police Station on February 29 by Kavan Basavakumar. An FIR was registered under sections 153(A) and 295(A) of the IPC.
The complaint alleged that Postcard News had insulted Kittur Rani Chennamma and Onake Obava, two historical figures from Karnataka.
"Rani Chennamma had maintained an illicit relationship with the British. Onake Obava had climbed into bed with Hyder Ali. Does this anger you? Then why is there no anger against the Kannada Film industry for carrying such stories? If any such Kannada film is made, then Kannadigas will burn the film maker and the entire crew," Postcard News' article had stated. Taking offence to this post the FIR was registered against Hegde, police said.
The arrest comes at a time when Karnataka is all set for assembly elections amid a deluge of fake news. Postcard News has come under fire from Congress leaders and many others in the state for deliberately exaggerating or reporting false news stories, especially on communal events.
BJP MP Pratap Simha had on Thursday evening tweeted said that Hegde was arrested under section 66 of the IT Act.