Protest post: social media reacts angrily over arrest of Facebook users
Two women were arrested over a Facebook status that questioned the rationale behind Mumbai shutting down over the death of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's death. Social media went abuzz, condeming the arrest and questioning how easily our laws can be misused. Is it time to relook at our laws? Here's what our viewers have to say.mumbai Updated: Nov 20, 2012 22:59 IST
On Sunday, Shaheen Dhada updated her Facebook status questioning the rationale behind Mumbai shutting down over the death of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray.
Hours later, while lakhs of Shiv Sainiks were particiapting in the funeral of Thackeray, Thane police officials visited Dhada's residence and detained her.
"Her comment said people like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a 'bandh' (city shutdown) for that," police inspector Uttam Sonawane told the Mumbai Mirror newspaper.
Along with Dhada, her friend Renu was also detained for 'liking' the status update. The duo was arrested following a complaint lodged by Shiv Sena president for Palghar city, Bhushan Sankhe.
Immediately, after the comment a mob of nearly 40 Shiv Sainiks allegedly barged into Dhada's uncles's orthopaedic hospital at Palghar and vandalised the place on Sunday.
"Police arrested both of them under section 505(2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes). Today, they were granted bail," Dhada's and Renu's advocate Sudhir Gupta said.
"Officials who went to the hospital said Shaheen had posted something against the Shiv Sena chief and that she should remove it. Around 8.30pm, 30 to 40 unidentified persons vandalised the hospital, causing losses to the tune of Rs. 15 lakh to 20 lakh."
The police have on Tusday arrested nine people in connection with the attack at the hospital. It is unclear if those arrested are Shiv Sainiks. Hours after 21-year-old Palghar resident Shaheen Dhadha posted a comment on Facebook denouncing the virtual shutdown of the city following Bal Thackeray's death, her uncle's hospital in Palghar was vandalised.
The police have booked "unidentified persons" for rioting and damaging property.
Won't blame anyone, say women
The two women who were arrested have deactivated their accounts and said that they would think twice before posting anything on the social networking site.
Sitting in the clinic of one of the girls' uncle with their faces covered, the women were very muted with their reaction.
Dhada, the woman who posted the comment on Facebook, apologised for the same and said she shouldn't have made the comment.
Speaking to a television channel, one of them said that they were targetted unfairly and both said that they will be careful of what they post on Facebook in the future.
When asked how the police handled the arrest, one of the women responded that the police were very supportive. They acknowledged that the police treated them fine and they had no issues with how the police handled the arrest.
Law easily misused?
Legal experts on Monday said it was wrong to invoke section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act - sending offensive messages through communication service - against the two Palghar-based women as it gave too much discretionary power to the police.
Lawyers criticised the Act, which has faced opposition since 2008 when it was added as an amendment to the original IT Act of 2000, calling it “logically inconsistent”.
Any online content identified as ‘grossly offensive or has menacing character’ or ‘electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience’ can attract section 66A, a non-bailable offence, punishable with up to three years’ jail.
Lawyer Flavia Agnes said: “The section is in conflict with the freedom of expression. If there is a situation where a particular section appears to curtail a constitutional right, the section should be well-defined, which is not the case with section 66A.”
Former IPS official and lawyer YP Singh said phrases such as ‘grossly offensive’ and ‘menacing character’ have to be defined properly as they are subjective.
“While abusing a person who is physically present is not a crime, if someone abuses a person over phone or an electronic device, it is a crime as per section 66A. It is a logically inconsistent section.”
Both Agnes and Singh said such a vague law can be abused by the police. “If there is no specification, the police will use the law as per their whims and fancies,” Agnes said.
PCI chief Katju condemns attack
Press Council of India chief Markandey Katju on Monday demanded "immediate" action against police personnel for arresting a woman in Mumbai protesting the shutdown in the city on Bal Thackeray's demise on social networking site Facebook. In an e-mail to the Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, he warned of "legal consequences" if the CM failed to act.
"I will deem it that you as CM are unable to run the state in a democratic manner as envisaged by the Constitution to which you have taken oath and then legal consequences will follow," Katju said.
"To my mind it is absurd to say that protesting against the bandh hurts religious sentiments. Under Article 19 of our Constitution, freedom of speech is 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," he added.
Outrage on social media after arrests
Twitter and Facebook, two prominent social media websites were abuzz with reactions over the arrest of the two women. On Twitter, topics such as #ArrestIdeas, #socialmedia and Facebook were trending through the day.
On Facebook, users shared an image of what appeared to be the comment made by Dhada, that led to her arrest.
How insecure are you to feel threatened by a 21 y-o girl's FB status in Palghar? Now SS wants 2 hold ur FB wall hostage?mumbaimirror.com/article/2/2012…— Aditi Mittal (@awryaditi) November 19, 2012
Maybe the Palghar Girls 'Voluntarily' got themselves arrested and their Uncle got his Clinic Vandalised out of 'Respect' for #Balasaheb— Joy (@Joydas) November 19, 2012
Palghar Sena chief calls it an accident. Ah I see, the hospital mustve been driving on the wrong side. 200 people probably collided into it.— gaurav kapur (@gauravkapur) November 20, 2012
Lawyers: Who are these judges that entertain such cases? Do they not have the power to look at it and say "This is a waste of time" #Palghar— Ashwin Mushran (@ashwinmushran) November 20, 2012
The "apology" from Palghar girls clearly the work of brute intimidation. This isn't just about muzzling speech. Its imprisoning thought— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) November 20, 2012