Arrests for FB posts anger SC

Arrests for FB posts anger SC

Arrests for FB posts anger SC

The Supreme Court on Thursday took a serious view of the arrest of two girls in Maharashtra over their Facebook posts saying that the “incident has outraged conscience of many” citizens in the country on a day when the government issued new guidelines on arrests for such misdemeanours.

Deciding to hear a PIL filed by a Delhi student, a bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and J Chelameswar sought the assistance of Attorney General G E Vahanvati.

Suo motu

As senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for petitioner Shreya Singhal, raised the matter, the court said that it was so concerned over the incident that it was contemplating taking up the issue suo motu.

“We were wondering why no one has approached the Supreme Court over this and even thought of taking up the issue suo motu. We were waiting to see what steps you take,” the apex court said. 

Advocate Rohtagi referred to the arrest of one girl for questioning the Mumbai shutdown after the demise of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray on Facebook and other one for ‘liking’ it.

He asked for declaration of Section 66(a) of the IT Act as unconstitutional, contending that anyone could be arrested for writing something or causing “annoyance, inconvenience or insult” etc.

The counsel submitted that the provision should be struck down as it was vague and curtailed freedom of expression.

“When were these girls arr­e­sted? As per the media rep­orts they were arrested after sunset? Might of the police, it seems, got activated only after sunset,” the court remarked.

 “The way in which the state has reacted in this case and also the police action, we think this matter requires some consideration from us,” the court added, posting the matter to Friday. The court was also told about a similar incident wherein a professor from West Bengal was arrested for allegedly posting a cartoon on net showing state chief minister Mamata Banerjee in a poor light.

Section 66 (a) is a bailable offence, enjoining jail term of up to three years in case of conviction.

However, the court refused to grant a plea by Rohtagi to pass an interim order restraining police from arresting anybody under the IT Act during pendency of the case unless prior approval of Inspector General of Police was obtained.

In a related development, the government, in deference to the view of the civil society members and others, issued a circular stating that only a police officer of the rank of Deputy Commissioner of Police or Superintendent of Police should be allowed to permit registration of case in rural areas and IG level in metros.

Until now, a police station in-charge or inspector could register a case under Section 66 (a).

The law that is a landmine

Section 66 (a) of the Information Technology Act carries a jail term of up to three years and with fine for an offence of sending by a computer or through a communication device information deemed “grossly offensive or has menacing character” or sending information knowing it to be “false” for the purpose of causing “annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will,” or “to deceive or to mislead” the recipient about the origin of the message.

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