After two girls were arrested and released on bail over a Facebook status questioning the shutdown in Mumbai after Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s death, lawyers, cyber lawyers and activists are saying that vaguely-worded laws are being used by the state to quell criticism and dissent.
Former bureaucrat and advocate Abha Singh has filed a complaint about the girls’ arrest with Maharashtra State Commission for Women.
Singh said, “The girls were brought to the police station without showing arrest before sunrise and their formal arrests were shown after sunrise.”
Demanding compensation for the wrongful arrests and departmental action against the policemen, she added that the police had violated SC guidelines on the stipulation of arrests in a non-serious case, involving no heinous offence and with no chance of absconding. She said the arrests were made without verification.
“The increase in government regulation and enforcement has changed the behaviour of many bloggers and activists online. This year, when I spoke at a legal workshop organised by the Internet Democracy Project for bloggers, there were many queries as to the kind of laws which can be used to prosecute online speech. There is also an increasing sense of fear, which does contribute to a rise in the number of people writing online under pseudonymous,” New Delhi-based litigator Apar Gupta said.
“Amendments to the IT Act were sold to the public partly as a legislative response to the attacks in Mumbai. According to statistics, not one case of cyber terrorism under section 66F of the IT Act has been made till date,” Gupta added.
Advocate YP Singh said that even the IPC laws were highly discretionary. “Any such laws can be stretched to ridiculous levels to settle scores or undermine human rights. This is not permitted in a democracy and is misuse of law. IPC’s section 505 and 66A (IT Act) should be made non-cognisable offences.”
Gupta explained, “Section 66A of the act is so broadly worded it can enable the registration of an FIR for any form of speech. It can even enable a person who disagrees with my views in this article file a criminal complaint against me. This section has been used against a girl in Chandigarh who used cuss words against what she termed was police lethargy in investigating the theft of her car.”
Activist Vivek Sundara said, “Whether it is the case of these girls or of Dr Binayak Sen or the singers and poets of the Kabir Kala Manch in Maharashtra who sing songs the state doesn’t approve of, the laws have been used to crush the voice of people.”