Indian authorities must immediately drop all charges against two women for their post on Facebook, says the ICJ.
“Arresting and criminally charging Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan for criticizing Mumbai’s shutdown after Bal Thackery’s death is a blatant contravention of India’s duty to uphold freedom of expression under international law,” said Sheila Varadan, International Legal Adviser, ICJ South Asia Programme.
On Sunday 18 November 2012, a 21-year-old woman identified as Shaheen Dhada posted a comment on Facebook that, ‘[p]eople like Thackery are born and died daily and one should not observe a ‘bandh’ [shutdown] for that.’
Her Facebook friend, 20-year-old Renu Srinivasan, ‘liked’ the comment. Shaheen deleted the comment later that evening and offered an apology.
“These arrests for a Facebook post is what you would expect of a dictatorship acting outside the rule of law, not the world’s largest democracy,” Varadan added. “Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of a free society and the fabric of democracy.”
Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan were charged under section 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code, the offence for deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings or religious beliefs.
The charges were later downgraded to Section 505(2) of the IPC, the offence of making statements that create or promote enmity or hatred or ill-will.
The two women are also charged under Section 66(A) of the Information Technology Act, the offence of sending information that is grossly offensive or causes enmity, hatred or ill will. Both offences carry a maximum sentence of three years imprisonment.
Chairman of the Press Council of India and former Supreme Court Judge, Markandey Katju also condemned the arrest and demanded the Chief Minister of Maharashtra take action against the police officers.
An inquiry has been ordered to examine whether the Facebook posts constituted an offence.
Under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which India ratified in 1979, freedom of expression must be protected at all times, the ICJ stresses.
“The spate of arrests in recent months is alarming, bringing into question India’s commitment to protecting freedom of expression,” Varadan said.
In October 2012, Ravi Srinivasan, a 46-year old businessman was arrested for a tweet that was critical of Karti Chidambaram. He is currently on bail, but still under prosecution.
In September 2012, political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was charged with sedition after publishing cartoons that allegedly mocked the Constitution and national emblem. The sedition charge was dropped on 12 October 2012.
In April 2012, a teacher was arrested after emailing a cartoon to friends that was critical of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The ICJ calls upon the Government of India to safeguard the exercise of freedom of expression in the country.
Sheila Varadan, ICJ Legal Adviser, South Asia Programme, t: +66 857200723; email: sheila.varadan(at)icj.orgNewsPress releases