New Delhi: Former Supreme Court judge and Press Council chairman Justice Markandey Katju has sent two letters to Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan condemning the arrest of two girls for making a comment on social networking site Facebook that questioned the shutdown in Mumbai for Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's funeral.
In his first e-mail he urged the Chief Minister to take actions but later asked him not to remain silent when Chavan did not give a reply.
The arrests sparked an online outrage.
Demanding action, Katju on Monday said in his first e-mail: "I am forwarding an email I have received stating that a woman in Maharashtra has been arrested for protesting on Facebook against the shut down in Mumbai on the occasion of the death of Mr. Bal Thackeray. It is alleged that she has been arrested for allegedly hurting religious sentiments."
"To my mind it is absurd to say that protesting against a bandh hurts religious sentiments. Under Article 19(1)(a) of our Constitution freedom of speech is a guaranteed fundamental right . We are living in a democracy, not a fascist dictatorship," he said.
"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," read his mail.
"Hence if the facts reported are correct, I request you to immediately order the suspension, arrest, chargesheeting and criminal prosecution of the police personnel (however high they may be) who ordered as well as implemented the arrest of that woman, failing which I will deem it that you as Chief Minister are unable to run the state in a democratic manner as envisaged by the Constitution to which you have taken oath, and then the legal consequences will follow," he said.
However, Katju later fired another e-mail to the Chief Minister when Chavan did not give a reply to his first e-mail and possibly forwarded it to an official.
In his second e-mail, Katju said: "You have not replied to my email but only forwarded it to someone called Amitabh Rajan, whom I do not know, and who has not had the courtesy to respond to me. Please realize that the matter is much too serious to be taken in this cavalier manner, because the principle of liberty is at stake."
"The entire nation wants to know what action you have taken. I would therefore request you to immediately let me know what you are doing in this matter," he said.
"Are we living in a democracy or not ? How can a person be arrested for objecting to the shutdown in Mumbai on Thackeray's death ? Article 21 of the Constitution, to uphold which you have taken an oath, states that no one can be deprived of his life or liberty except in accordance with law. Does Article 21 not exist in Maharashtra ? Does freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) also not exist in your state ?" he questioned.
He said the Chief Minister should not remain silent on the matter.
"Please realize that silence is not an option for you in the matter. The entire nation is furious at this apparently illegal arrest," Katju said.
"Therefore I once again request you to tell me, and through me the entire nation, why this arrest of a woman was made in Mumbai just for putting up an apparently innocuous material on the Facebook, and what action you have taken against the delinquent policemen and others involved in this high handedness and blatant misuse of state machinery," he said.
Two girls were arrested in Maharashtra's Thane district over the Facebook comment.
Shaheen Dhada was arrested on Sunday for posting a comment against the shutdown, while another girl was arrested for 'liking' it.
The girls were later granted bail.
Shiv Sena workers vandalised an orthopaedic hospital of Dhada's uncle on Sunday after she posted the comment.
Nine persons have been arrested for vandalizing the hospital, said reports.
However, the Shiv Sena defended the police action of arresting two girls.
They said any comments against Bal Thackeray will not be tolerated.
"Balasaheb Thackeray is our God. We will not tolerate any offensive comments against him. No Shiv Sainik and no Marathi Manoos will remain silent. The police knows who was behind the Facebook comment. The arrest is justified," Shiv Sena's Thane rural district head Prabhakar Raul told CNN-IBN.
Pertinently, the post that sparked a controversy said instead of shutting down Mumbai for Thackeray's death, "We should remember Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev - two martyrs of India's independence."
The arrests were made under Section 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The girls were arrested after a Shiv Sena leader filed a complaint against them.
Thackeray died on Saturday after battling ailments for days, ending an era in Maharashtra and national politics in course of which many opposed to his functioning struggling to come to terms with his brand of firebrand nationalism. He was 86.