New Delhi: The arrest of two girls over their Facebook post on shutdown in Mumbai for Bal Thackeray's funeral on Monday again opened a can of worms with netizens calling the move a "social media hijack by the powerful and the fundamentalists". Social media was abuzz with tweets and posts about the arrest, with most referring to the arrest as yet another move to curb freedom of speech on the Internet.
Noted journalist Gautam Chikermane tweeted "First Pondicherry businessman, now 21 year old Palghar girl. Next: all of us. Social media hijack by the powerful and the fundamentalists". Minister of State (Communications and IT) Milind Deora tweeted: "To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize ~ Voltaire".
Communication specialist Alyque Padamsee expressed shock at the arrest and the vandalism at the clinic of one of the girl's uncle. "I want to know how these girls have broken the law when all they said is that why should Mumbai come to a standstill. There is nothing derogatory against Thackeray. I do not see anything illegal in that," he said. Padamsee further said the Constitution provides everyone free speech and that "no one should be arrested on such flimsy grounds".
Pavan Duggal, Cyber law Expert and an advocate with Supreme Court also voiced similar views. "This is high time for the government for the review of the law. The government should amend the IT Act so as to narrow down its provisions as some of the these violate our constitutional right of free speech."
He added that it would be a bigger challenge for the prosecution to prove that the statement could incite communal disharmony and violence. "This should not be seen merely as "social media regulation", but as a restriction on freedom of speech and expression by both the law and the police," Centre for Internet and Society Policy Director Pranesh Prakash said.
The two girls--Shaheen Dhada and Renu--were sent to 14-day judicial custody by a court before which they were produced today but were granted bail within hours after they furnished personal bonds. There was also an attack on the clinic of an uncle of one of them by Sena activists.
The arrests also sparked an outrage with Press Council of India chief Markandey Katju today demanding "immediate" action against police personnel involved. While Dhada was arrested for the post, Dhada's friend Renu was arrested for 'liking' the post. "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," their advocate Sudhir Gupta said.
The duo was arrested following a police complaint lodged by a local Sena leader. After the comment was posted, a mob of nearly 40 Shiv Sainiks allegedly barged into Dhada's uncles's orthopaedic hospital at Palghar and vandalised the place on Sunday. However, no arrests were made in connection with the attack.
Some other tweets in support of the girls read: "Hatred of minorities, liberals is an epidemic on Twitter. Law shd be harsh on hatespeak not on democratic rights of 21 year olds!Cheerio" (@sagarikaghose) and "So the girl n frnd got arrested for posting stuff on FB did Shiv sainiks get arrested for destroying the doc's hospital?? #Mumbai #Balasaheb" (@SocoMumbai).
Last month, a businessman from Puducherry was arrested on the charge of posting "offensive" messages on social media targeting Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram's son Karti Chidambaram.
The following image was also being circulated over the Internet and is said to be the Facebook post that led to the girls' arrest: