Mosque in northern India demolished for road widening, not for 'hoisting Pakistani flag'

Copyright AFP 2017-2023. All rights reserved.

A video has been viewed thousands of times in social media posts that misleadingly claim a mosque was demolished by a local government in northern India because it hoisted Pakistan's national flag. The mosque's imam and a police spokesperson both told AFP parts of the mosque were in fact torn down to make way for a road-widening project. The flag seen on top of the mosque is not the Pakistani flag, but an Islamic flag.

"Under the rule of Yogi Baba, in Saidabad Prayagraj (Uttar Pradesh), a mosque was demolished for hoisting Pakistan's flag," reads the Hindi-language caption of a video shared on Facebook here on January 14, 2023.

The video has been viewed more than 2,000 times.

"Yogi Baba" refers to Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu monk from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who is chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.

A poster boy of Hindu nationalism, Adityanath campaigned during state elections in 2022 against "anti-nationals" -- seen as a euphemism for Muslims who make up around one-fifth of Uttar Pradesh’s population.

The two-minute 51-second video appears to show parts of a building in the distance being torn down by an excavator. Several flags can be seen flying atop the structure.

Screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, captured on January 23, 2023

The claim circulated after local media reported that parts of a historic mosque in the area -- Shahi Masjid -- were torn down on January 9.

A mosque committee had sought to block efforts to demolish the building by filing a petition with the high court but, according to a report in The Times of India newspaper from August 2022, this was unsuccessful.

The court said the mosque had encroached on government land. It added it could not rule on the ownership of the land, and that would need to be decided through a civil suit.

The same video was shared alongside a similar claim on Facebook here and here, while a similar video was shared on Twitter here.

Comments on the posts suggest some users believed the claim.

"Very right decision, why is the flag of Pakistan on a mosque in India?" wrote one user.

Another said: "Such action has become very necessary, Muslims should be sent to Pakistan only."

But the claim is false; parts of the mosque were not demolished because it "hoisted a Pakistani flag".

Road-widening project

The imam of the Shahi Masjid, Babul Hussain, told AFP that parts of the mosque were torn down to make way for an expansion of the Great Trunk Road (GT Road) next to the building.

"The demolition was due to road widening, which we are already fighting in court," he said on January 16.

A tweet from the official account of the police in Prayagraj on January 15 also said the demolition was related to the road-widening project.

"The mosque was removed on January 9, 2023, after an agreement was reached after talks between the members of the mosque committee and officials of the Public Works Department," read the Hindi-language tweet.

Local Hindi newspaper Dainik Bhaskar published a report about the demolition, stating it was related to a road-widening project.

The newspaper reported that a case was to be heard in a lower court, but the demolition took place before legal proceedings were concluded.

Islamic flag

The station house officer of the local Handia police station, Dharmendra Dubey, also told AFP the claim the mosque was demolished because it hoisted a Pakistani flag was "completely false".

"The mosque was demolished due to road widening work by the Public Works Department. The mosque had an Islamic flag, not the flag of Pakistan," Dubey said on January 16.

An analysis of the video shared in misleading social media posts appears to show a green flag with white markings that is similar to flags used during Islamic religious festivals.

The green flag appears to correspond to one seen in an AFP photo taken in Mumbai in 2010, when Indian Muslims celebrated Eid Milad-un-Nabi -- the anniversary of the Prophet Mohammed's birth.

Both flags have a white star and crescent on a green background.

Below is a comparison of the flag seen in the video (left) and the Islamic flag seen in an AFP photo (right):

A comparison of the flag seen in the video (left) and the Islamic flag seen in an AFP photo (right)

While similar to Pakistan's national flag, this religious flag is solid green and does not have the vertical white stripe as seen on the Pakistani flag below:

A student waves the national flag of Pakistan outside the mausoleum of country's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, after Pakistan's 75th Independence Day ceremony in Karachi on August 14, 2022 ( AFP / Rizwan TABASSUM)

AFP has previously debunked false claims that misidentified flags as being Pakistan's national flag here, here and here.

January 27, 2023 This article was updated to correct the date the claim was shared on Facebook to January 14, 2023.