Indian police made new arrests over the weekend for the murder of a Hindu tailor in Rajasthan – a crime that has sparked tensions between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority and a crackdown on protests and the internet for the prevent it from escalating.
Two Muslim men previously arrested for the murder, who filmed the act and posted it online, said it was a response in support of the victim to a politician’s derogatory remarks at the regard to the Prophet Muhammad.
The victim, Kanhaiya Lal Teli, reportedly posted a social media post supporting Nupur Sharma, a former spokesman for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, who made anti-Islamic comments in May.
Three senior police officials said on Saturday that two other Rajasthan-based Muslim men were being held for planning the murder of Teli at his shop in Udaipur, a popular tourist destination.
“We have now arrested the two masterminds, and previously we had arrested two men who committed the heinous crime,” said Prafulla Kumar, a senior police official based in Udaipur.
Kumar said internet services were gradually restored and security forces remained on alert.
An angry mob, including lawyers, slapped and shoved the four defendants in the murder case as they appeared in a trial court on Saturday.
India’s Supreme Court justices said Friday that Sharma must apologize to the entire nation after his remarks intensified religious fault lines in India, angered Islamic nations and sparked diplomatic tensions.
Local media reported a separate incident on June 21 in which a chemist was stabbed to death in the western state of Maharashtra for allegedly supporting comments made by Sharma on social media.
“Five people have been arrested in connection with the murder of the chemist, and a search is underway to find the main accused,” said Aarti Singh, a regional police official, quoted by local press.
Singh said the reasons for the murder have yet to be determined.
At least two protesters have been shot dead by police in India during demonstrations over Sharma’s comments.
In Afghanistan, the Islamic State militant group claimed last month that an attack on a Sikh temple that killed at least two people and injured seven was a response to insults hurled at the Prophet Muhammad in India.
New Delhi police arrested journalist Mohammed Zubair, an outspoken critic of the Modi government, who had helped draw attention to Sharma’s remarks through his fact-checking website Alt News and on social media.
Zubair’s bail plea was rejected on Saturday and a local court sentenced him to two weeks in police custody, a court order said.
The National Investigation Agency – India’s main counter-terrorism agency – said it was investigating Teli’s murder.
A senior agency official in New Delhi said officers were interviewing Muslims linked to the four defendants in Udaipur to determine whether they had links to militant networks.
Muslims living about 3 kilometers from the tailor’s shop said they felt nervous and feared a social and economic boycott by powerful Hindus residing in Udaipur.
“I know what was done is barbaric, but the community should not be held responsible for the act of two people,” said Mohammad Farukh, a medical representative living in a Muslim-majority area of the city.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board called the incident “highly condemnable”, adding that it was against both Indian law and Islamic restrictions.
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