Indian authorities have arrested two Facebook users who were critical of the government’s shutdown of Mumbai after a prominent politician died, drawing condemnation from Indian social media users.
A 21-year-old woman was arrested after she criticized the complete shutdown of Mumbai, one of the largest cities in the world, for the funeral of Bal Thackeray, who died recently, reported the Mumbai Mirror.
Another woman who “liked” the comment was also arrested, the newspaper reported. The original poster later withdrew her comment, but a mob of some 2,000 followers of Thackeray took offense to her post and ransacked her uncle’s orthopedic clinic.
“Respect is earned, not given and definitely not forced. Today Mumbai shuts down due to fear and not due to respect,” reads the posting, reported Indian broadcaster NDTV. She was referring to Thackeray, the founder of a right-wing, pro-Hindu party called Shiv Sena. They were arrested on Sunday, reported the Hindustan Times.
The arrests drew swift condemnation from Indian netizens.
Gautam Chikermane of the Hindustan Times said via his Twitter account that Indian authorities will target “all of us” after they detained the woman. He described the incident as a “social media hijack by the powerful and the fundamentalists.”
“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
The Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society advocacy group said that the law Indian authorities used to penalize the woman was “clearly” misapplied. “This provision has been frivolously used numerous times in Maharashtra,” where she was arrested, it said.
“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,” the Centre said.
Thackeray, 86, died over the weekend and his funeral drew more than two million mourners, reported the Times. In comparison, Michael Jackson’s funeral drew more than one million mourners.
The two women, who both live in Mumbai, were later given a 14-day jail sentence, but were released in a few hours after they each paid 15,000 rupees ($272), reported India-based NDTV.
In making the arrests the police cited a law that outlaws “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” NDTV said.
The director of the Maharashtra police bureau announced an investigation into the girls’ arrests, reported the Hindustan Times.
Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju told the Times that if the local government failed to take action in dropping the charges against the girls, then the local government is “unable to run the state in a democratic manner as envisaged by the constitution to which you have taken oath, and then the legal consequences will follow.”
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