A lower court in Palghar, near Mumbai, has granted bail to two college students after the local police picked them up on charges of inciting violence over a Facebook posting. The student had questioned the shut down of Mumbai on Sunday following the death of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray.
The students were picked up in Palghar after one of them -- Shaheen Dhada, 22, commented on her Facebook page 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. One of her friend “liked” the Facebook posting and she was also arrested under the same Section 505 (2) of the Indian Penal Code.
The section gives powers to police to arrest anyone who makes a statements which creates or promotes enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes. Under the Act, an offender can be punished with imprisonment which may 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, SP of Thane (Rural) police told Business Standard. The police action came after the local Shiv Sainiks vandalized an orthopedic clinic owned by the student’s family in Palghar.
The high handedness of the police has, however, invited ire of human rights activists and lawyers who say the overzealous cops should not arrest college kids over innocuous Facebook or Twitter postings. "This is just the tip of the iceberg and as the use of social network will increase you will see such abuse of power. The use of Section 505 of IPC is just not applicable," said Pavan Duggal, Cyber law Expert and an advocate with Supreme Court. Duggal says IT Act is more draconian.
According to the IT Act 2008, section 66 (a), which states that, any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device, any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character.
"I think such cases will keep cropping simply because the IT Act is really vast and many of the acts are left on the interpretation of the person using them. If you look at the IT Act 66 (b) it is much more vast. It says: any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device.' This leaves room for various interpretation," said a senior advocate.
This is not the first time that police has arrested someone based on their comments on a social network.
In October, a small scale industrialist in Puducherry was arrested on the charge of posting "offensive" messages on social media targeting Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram's son Karti Chidambaram. The person arrested, had posted messages on Twitter stating that Karthi Chidambaram had amassed wealth more than that of Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi 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 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". Yet another cartoon depicted the Indian Parliament as a giant toilet bowl.
The Mumbai police later dropped all charges against Trivedi after the Bombay High Court blasted the police for its high handedness.
Meanwhile, agency reports say Justice Markandey Katju has written a letter to Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan in which he has termed the arrest as absurd and demanded immediate action against guilty officers.