A standard 11 student in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh has been arrested and sent to 14 days of judicial remand, after Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan’s media in-charge Fasahat Ali Khan filed a complaint with the police claiming that the student posted an offensive message about a particular community on Facebook and attributed it to Khan, reports The Times of India. It’s not yet clear how old the student is.
The student has been booked under Section 66A of the IT Act and some other sections related to disrupting public peace and communal harmony. The report mentions that police didn’t follow rules at the time of arresting the boy, who was apparently first arrested on Monday and produced in court the following day. The boy’s family members have claimed that he only shared the post and not write it.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first such arrest over an alleged objectionable Facebook post related to Azam Khan in Uttar Pradesh. In August 2013, Dalit writer and social activist Kanwal Bharti had also been arrested after he posted a critical comment on Facebook about the suspension of IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal.
A disturbing history of damaging dissent in India
This case once again illustrates the issue with the draconian IT Act (2008): A number of cases of netizens arrested under Section 66A for posts on Facebook and Twitter have come up over the past 2-3 years:
– There was the Palghar case in November 2012, in which Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan were arrested for posting an anti-bandh update on Facebook.
– In May 2012, two Air India employees were arrested by the cyber crime cell of the Mumbai police for allegedly posting lewd jokes about politicians, making derogatory comments against the Prime Minister and insulting the national flag in their Facebook posts.
– Heena Bakshi and Kamalpreet Singh had been arrested for allegedly posting abusive comments on Chandigarh traffic police’s Facebook page in September 2012, while the Supreme Court of India recently upheld a Bangalore-based couple’s right to vent their frustrations on the Bangalore Police Facebook page after an officer filed an FIR against them.
– Last year, Kerala Police arrested a college student on charges of sedition, following complaints filed against him for allegedly changing some of the words of an undisclosed patriotic song with abuses in a Facebook post.
– In October last year, a student had been arrested by the Andhra Pradesh CID for posting that the Cyclone Huhud was good, and that it was nature’s way of punishing those who did not vote for the YSR Congress Party.
– Police in a few states have also warned users against sharing pr even liking objectionable content online or risk being arrested: In Belgaum, Karnataka and Mumbai, Maharashtra.
Thin line between Freedom of Speech and Online Abuse
In 2012, Chennai police had detained two people for harassing singer Chinmayi Sripada on Twitter. This brought up an important dichotomy: how to distinguish where freedom of speech ends and online abuse begins? A number of journalists, authors, politicians and celebrities are targeted and often abused on platforms like Facebook and Twitter on a regular basis. The options in front of them are to either report it to the platform, to the authorities (read police) or ignore. Section 66A, which we think should ideally be junked, needs to find a solution for this dichotomy or it’s likely to be continued to misused.