Austrian nationals booked for defacing Palestinian mural

Police in India have registered a complaint against two Austrian nationals for allegedly destroying a mural in support of Palestine at a popular tourist destination in the south.

A commotion ensued in the picturesque Fort Kochi area in the southern state of Kerala on Monday night after two Austrian tourists, both women, were spotted allegedly tearing down posters and banners in support of Palestinian people amid Israel's ongoing assault in Gaza.

Videos circulating on social media showed the women arguing with locals after being questioned about their alleged vandalism.

One of the tourists could be seen holding what appeared to be a piece of the mural, while telling a local: "I did it for the Jewish people".

She also accused the man of "promoting propaganda and lies" through the murals.

The incident comes at a time when the Israeli offensive in Gaza has caused widespread devastation and killed over 33,800 people, including more than 12,500 children, according to local health officials.

Israel says the six-month-long attack on Gaza was aimed at destroying Hamas after the militants killed about 1,200 Israelis in a surprise attack on 7 October.

Surveillance footage at Jankar Jetty in Fort Kochi showed one of the tourists clicking pictures of the mural before proceeding to tear it down, The News Minute reported.

On Tuesday, members of the Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO), who erected the boards, staged a protest in front of the local police station demanding that the police register a case.

“The murals gained international attention. When people saw the murals being destroyed, they tried to stop them," said SIO city president Fuaad, identified in the media only by one name. He added that the police were initally unwilling to register a case against the foreign nationals.

The police late at night registered a first information report (FIR) – the first step in any formal police procedure in India – with charges of provocation for rioting under the Indian Penal Code section 153.

The tourists have been summoned for questioning.

People in Kerala have expressed their solidarity for the Palestinians through mass rallies since the onset of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's barrage of missile attacks on Gaza.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan inaugurated a rally by his Communist Party of India (Marxist) in November, which saw a participation of more than 50,000 people across party affiliations.

The Independent has reached out to the Kerala police for a comment.