A lower court in Palghar, near Mumbai, granted bail to two college students after the local police arrested them on charges of "inciting violence" over a Facebook post. Their crime: One student had questioned the shutdown of Mumbai on Sunday, following the death of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, while her friend had simply 'liked' it.
S Dhada, 22, posted on her Facebook wall that “We should remember Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev– two martyrs of India’ s independence ”-- instead of closing down the city due to the death of Thackeray. Both were arrested under the same Section 505 (2) of the Indian Penal Code, which gives powers to the police to arrest anyone who makes a statement which creates or promotes enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes. Under the Act, an offender can be punished with imprisonment, which can extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
“We had arrested them yesterday for inciting violence and the Palghar court has granted them bail today,” Ravindra Singaonkar, superintendent of police of Thane (rural) police, told Business Standard. The police action came after local Shiv Sainiks vandalised an orthopedic clinic owned by Dhada’s family in Palghar.
The high-handedness of the police has, however, invited the ire of human rights activists and lawyers. "This is just the tip of the iceberg and as the use of social networks will increase, you will see such abuse of power. The use of Section 505 of IPC is just not applicable," said Pavan Duggal, a cyber law expert and an advocate with Supreme Court.
According to the section 66 (a) of the Information Technology Act, 2008, which states that any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device, any information that is grossly offensive has a menacing character.
"I think such cases will keep cropping up simply because the IT Act is really vast and many of the acts are left on the interpretation of the person using them," said a senior advocate.
Former Supreme Court judge and chairman of Press Council of India, Markandey Katju has written a letter to Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan in which he has termed the arrest “absurd” and demanded immediate action against guilty officers.
“Under our Constitution, freedom of speech is a guaranteed fundamental right. We are living in a democracy, not a fascist dictatorship. In fact, this arrest itself appears to be a criminal act since under Sections 341 and 342, it is a crime to wrongfully arrest or wrongfully confine someone who has committed no crime," Katju said.
This is not the first time that the police are arresting someone based on their comments on social networks. In October, a small industrialist in Puducherry, Ravi Srinivasan, was arrested for posting "offensive" messages against Union finance minister P Chidambaram’s son, Karti Chidambaram.
The person had tweeted that Karti had amassed wealth more than that of Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi’s arrest is yet another instance. Trivedi, who had started a campaign against corruption on his website www.cartoonagainstcorruption.com was arrested by the cyber crime branch of the Mumbai Police for some cartoons on grounds of sedition and insulting the national emblems of the country.
In a series of cartoons, he had criticised Indian politicians. One of the cartoons, he used the national emblem of three lions and replaced with three wolves, their teeth dripping blood, with the message "Long live corruption".