Sedition charges over a Facebook post in Kerala: Justified or going overboard?

Sedition charges over a Facebook post in Kerala: Justified or going overboard?
Sedition charges over a Facebook post in Kerala: Justified or going overboard?
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Dhanya Rajendran| The News Minute| August 25, 2014| 11.00 am IST

Last week Kerala police arrested Salman, a college student from Thiruvananthapuram for sitting while the national anthem was played out at the Nila theatre, and for howling after the anthem got over.

The persons, who filed a complaint against Salman and his friends, knew Salman from college. Though the howling during the national anthem was part of the complaint, the complainants also mentioned that Salman who calls himself an anarchist had insulted India on a Facebook post and it had hurt their sentiments.

Salman in a Facebook post on Independence Day had altered a patriotic song and replaced some words with abuses. It is unclear if the complainants discovered the Facebook post after they filed a complaint about the national anthem incident and later added details about the Facebook post. On August 20, the Thampanoor police picked up Salman from his house in Thiruvananthapuram by midnight.

By next day evening Salman’s family and friends were told that an FIR had been filed against him on charges of sedition under Section 124A, Section 66A of the Information Technology Act and Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971.

“Why was Salman picked up at midnight? What kind of emergency was there for that kind of an arrest? In the night the Thampanoor police claimed they had not made any arrests, the arrest was recorded only the next day. Some people may have found his Facebook post, but charging him with sedition is extreme,” says Salman’s friend, writer Ajith Kumar.

The Thampanoor police told The News Minute that the case was being investigated by the cyber police cell, and the Facebook post was the basis on which sedition charges have been included in the case against Salman.

A Facebook group called ‘Justice for Salman’ has been started and student groups are organizing small protests against police action in many districts of Kerala. 

The group says that charging Salman with IPC 124 A (sedition) is a gross over stretching of the sedition act to encroach into the rights of a citizen to criticize the nation. Justice for Salman says, “We also condemn the abusive campaign that is being conducted on Facebook against him and the discriminatory nature of the media reporting, which is aiding such human right abuses.”

A statement was released by many concerned citizens questioning the nature of the arrest. The statement says, ‘His arrest is all the more troublesome because he was a student who has been a part of many human rights campaigns in the past and was even an artist in the play that was held in protest against UAPA in front of the Secretariat on August 14th. His clandestine arrest and subsequent secret incarceration and denial of legal access for a whole day and night reek of police impunity, which selectively target the youth who question state ideology. ‘

Salman was one among many student activists in Kerala who had extended support to many protests including those by adivasis against illegal land acquisition and  protest by a woman named Jazeera against illegal sand mining in the state.

Many of Salman's friends point out that they believe he was on police radar for extending support to protests against the government, and this complaint provided them with an opportunity to arrest him.

“I may not agree with some of Salman’s views, but use of sedition charges for a Facebook post is preposterous,” says BRP Bhaskar, writer and journalist.

“People express their opinions on forums like Facebook, that’s not where a war if fought or an agenda is being set. The post may be good, bad or provocative, but police should analyse the impact, No great harm done by such posts on Facebook. Arresting and applying charges of sedition runs against the letter and spirit of the constitution,” he adds.

BRP Bhaskar adds that if there is a breach of law and there is room to act, the government should. “But just because an expression is not popular or does not satisfy a particular political group and when there is no grave threat to the security of the country, the police action is not justified,” he said.

Salman’s arrest once again throws open questions about the idea of sedition, especially in a virtual world where everyone is putting forward opinions and grievances, assuming it to be a safe space.

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