An Indian law used to arrest citizens who say unflattering things online has been so highly criticized recently, it may soon be overturned.
In the latest fallout, two Indian police officials deemed responsible for arresting two women over their Facebook activity—one posted an irreverent status update; another liked it—have been suspended.
It’s the latest in a number of signs that India can’t justify the notorious Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which vaguely criminalizes “‘sending false and offensive messages through communication services.”
Police in Maharashtra, India cited the act when they arrested Shahien Dhada and Renu Srinivasan on Nov. 18. They said Dhada, 21, had disrespected a recently-deceased politician by posting that people “are born and die daily and one should not observe a bandh for that” as her Facebook status update, and that Srinivasan had liked the status. The arrests became international news.
On Tuesday, the state’s home minister announced that two major police officers from the area, the superintendent and head of the police station that arrested the girls, had been suspended. It’s unclear how long the suspension will last or if they’ll receive pay, but he did call the girls’ arrests “unjustified.”
The day before, the magistrate who had set the women’s bail at 15,000 rupees (USD $271) each, Ramchandra Bagade, was transferred by the Bombay High Court. Though no official reason was given, that news came on the heels of an official police report that exonerated the two girls, whose charges were dropped.
Legal scholars and activists, among them a former judge on India’s Supreme Court, have called Section 66A at odds with “a guaranteed fundamental right.” Free speech is guaranteed by India’s constitution, though that doesn’t always play out online.
But 66A, at least, appears in trouble. Nine members of India’s Parliament signed a call for a revisitation of free speech in the country, possibly including 66A. And two cities’ high courts have challenged that provision since the womens’ arrest.
Photo by Dinesh Cyanam/Flickr