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Guest post by PRANESH PRAKASH
This morning, there was a short report in the Mumbai Mirror about two girls having been arrested for comments one of them made, and the other ‘liked’, on Facebook about Bal Thackeray:
Police on Sunday arrested a 21-year-old girl for questioning the total shutdown in the city for Bal Thackeray’s funeral on her Facebook account. Another girl who ‘liked’ the comment was also arrested.
The duo were booked under Section 295 (a) of the IPC (for hurting religious sentiments) and Section 64 (a) of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Though the girl withdrew her comment and apologised, a mob of some 2,000 Shiv Sena workers attacked and ransacked her uncle’s orthopaedic clinic at Palghar.
“Her comment said people like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a bandh for that,” said PI Uttam Sonawane.
What provisions of law were used?
There’s a small mistake in Mumbai Mirror‘s reportage as there is no section “64(a)”1 in the Information Technology (IT) Act, nor a section “295(a)” in the Indian Penal Code (IPC). They must have meant section 295A of the IPC (“outraging religious feelings of any class”) and section 66A of the IT Act (“sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.”). The Wall Street Journal’s Shreya Shah has confirmed that the second provision was section 66A of the IT Act.
Section 295A of the IPC is cognizable and non-bailable, and hence the police have the powers to arrest a person accused of this without a warrant.2 Section 66A of the IT Act is cognizable and bailable. Some news sources claim that section 505(2) of the IPC (“Statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes”) has also been invoked.
This is clearly a case of misapplication of s.295A of the IPC.3 This provision has been frivolously used numerous times in Maharashtra. Even the banning of James Laine’s book Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India happened under s.295A, and the ban was subsequently held to have been unlawful by both the Bombay High Court as well as the Supreme Court. Indeed, s.295A has not been applied in cases where it is more apparent, making this seem like a parody news report. Continue reading Social Media Regulation vs. Suppression of Freedom of Speech: Pranesh Prakash