Indian police have made fresh arrests over the murder of a Hindu tailor in Rajasthan, which sparked tensions between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority and a clampdown on protests and the internet to prevent them from escalating.
Three senior police officials said on Saturday that two Muslim men based in Rajasthan were being held for planning Teli’s murder in his shop in Udaipur, a popular tourist destination. Two other Muslim men were already under arrest.
“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.
The murder was filmed and posted online, allegedly as a response to the victim’s support for a politician’s derogatory remarks. The victim, Kanhaiya Lal Teli, had allegedly made a social media post supporting Nupur Sharma – a former spokesperson for the party of Narendra Modi, the prime minister – who made anti-Islam comments in May.
Kumar said internet services were being gradually restored and security forces continued to be on alert.
An angry mob including some lawyers slapped and shoved the four accused in the murder case when they were presented before a trial court on Saturday.
Judges from the supreme court said on Friday that Sharma must apologise to the whole nation after her remarks intensified religious fault lines in India, angered Islamic nations and triggered diplomatic strains.
Local media reported a separate incident on 21 June in which a chemist was stabbed to death in the western state Maharashtra for allegedly supporting the remarks made by Sharma on social media.
“Five persons were arrested in connection with the murder of the chemist, and a search is on to trace the prime accused,” Aarti Singh, a chief regional police official, was quoted by local press as saying.
In Afghanistan, the militant group Islamic State last month claimed an attack on a Sikh temple that killed at least two people and injured seven was in response to insults levelled at the Prophet Mohammad in India.
Police in New Delhi arrested the journalist Mohammed Zubair, a vocal 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’ custody, a court order said.
The National Investigative Agency (NIA) – India’s top anti-terrorism agency – said it was carrying out a probe into Teli’s killing.
A senior NIA official in New Delhi said agents were questioning Muslims linked with the four accused in Udaipur to identify whether they had links with militant networks.
Muslims living about 3km 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 has been done is barbaric, but the community should not be held responsible for the deed of two people,” said Mohammad Farukh, a medical representative living in a Muslim-dominated area of the city.