Six-word Twitter plea amid Covid crisis could land man in jail

A man who pleaded for oxygen on Twitter amid India's devastating Covid-19 crisis has been charged for fear-mongering.

"Need oxygen cylinder asap.. Plz sir (sic)," Shashank Yadav tweeted on Monday, and tagged Bollywood actor Sonu Sood.

Social media is awash with similar calls for oxygen as the nation struggles to distribute its supplies to Covid patients in desperate need. India continues to break daily records for new cases with Wednesday bringing more than 360,000 cases.

In this April 26, 2021, file photo, health workers and relatives carry the body of a COVID-19 victim. (AP Photo/Channi Anand) File)
India continues to record thousands of deaths a day due to Covid-19. Source: AP

Yadav, from the state of Uttar Pradesh, did not state who the oxygen was for or whether they were a Covid-19 patient.

Like many pleas beforehand, Yadav's tweet was shared by someone in the media before coming to the attention of minister Smriti Irani after she was tagged.

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She later tweeted she could not get through to Yadav and would pursue the matter further, calling on the assistance of local authorities.

Amethi Police later confirmed on Twitter that Yadav was pursuing oxygen for his 88-year-old grandfather, however he did not have Covid-19 and was not requiring oxygen.

The tweet said the grandfather died at 8pm on Monday of a heart attack.

"Making such tweets are not only condemnable but also an offence," Amethi Police said.

Charged over spreading misleading information, police say

Superintendent of Police Dinesh Singh said Yadav had been tracked down after calls to his phone went unanswered, The Hindu reported.

Authorities found him at his address asleep, he said.

"Shashank's motive was to create sensation and fear," Supt Singh said.

Senior police officer Arpit Kapoor confirmed Yadav had been charged over "spreading misleading information", The Indian Express reported.

Yadav was charged under the Epidemic Diseases Act and could face jail time, the BBC reported.

The charges prompted criticism from some online insisting freedom of speech meant he was entitled to make such a plea, regardless of his particular circumstances. Yet authorities argued his post encouraged other people to make false claims against the government.

India’s prime minister Narendra Modi and his government are facing mounting criticism as the health system reaches breaking point as hospital beds and supplies rapidly run out.

His political party BJP has faced intense scrutiny for continuing election rallies in recent weeks which experts believe has fuelled the rapid surge in infections.

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