India suspends policemen over Facebook arrests


Published — Wednesday 28 November 2012

Last update 27 November 2012 10:52 pm

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MUMBAI: India suspended two senior police officers and transferred a judge yesterday over the arrests of two women for Facebook posts in a case that sparked outrage and fierce debate over India’s Internet laws.
The women, both 21, were arrested a week ago over comments on the social networking site questioning the shutdown of Mumbai for the funeral of the hard-line politician Bal Thackeray.
Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, launched an inquiry into the arrests amid a public outcry over curbs on free speech.
Yesterday state Home Minister R.R. Patil announced the suspension of superintendent Ravindra Sengaonkar and senior inspector Shrikant Pingle.
“There was no need to charge the girls under wrong sections,” Patil told reporters.
A Facebook post by Shaheen Dhada on the day of the funeral for Thackeray, whose party has a reputation for intimidation and violence, said that Mumbai had shut down “due to fear, not due to respect.”
Renu Srinivasan “liked,” shared and agreed to the post, commenting that despite respect for Thackeray, “it doesn’t make sense to shut down everything!” the BBC reported after an interview with the women.
The magistrate in Palghar town north of Mumbai who sent the women to judicial custody and then bailed them has also been transferred by the Bombay High Court, the Press Trust of India reported.
Dhada and Srinivasan were each granted bail for 15,000 rupees ($ 270) straight after they were handed two weeks in custody.
Police said the pair were arrested under the Indian Penal Code for “hurting religious sentiments,” but this was later changed to the section against “statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes.”
They were also booked under section 66a of the Information Technology Act, which forbids “sending false and offensive messages through communication services” and can lead to three years in jail.
“In the age of information and technology, we appear to be kissing goodbye to the Constitution-guaranteed fundamental right of freedom to speech and expression ever since Section 66a was introduced,” said a piece in The Hindu.
India’s Communication Minister Kapil Sibal was expected to convene a meeting on Thursday to discuss the arrests and relevant laws.
“The law has been misused with regard to lodging of a case on expressing one’s views on Facebook as everyone has the right of expression,” Sibal said last week.

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