The arrest of a Kashmiri man for ‘sedition’ for sharing ‘anti-India’ posts on Facebook is an absurd use of an archaic law to curb freedom of expression, human rights organization Amnesty International India said Saturday.
On 4 August, according to Amnesty, the Chhattisgarh police arrested Tauseef Ahmed Bhat from a railway station in Madhya Pradesh, based on a complaint lodged in Durg, Chhattisgarh.
Earlier this year, the Narendra Modi government used the police force to arrest a few students from JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) under the draconian sedition law while there was hardly any evidence against the students.
The JNU student leaders had asserted that the rampant arrests of students across the country and the slapping of various charges on student activists signal a situation of extreme alarm and a nervous attempt by the state to crush dissenting voices.
Amnesty International India also had launched an online petition demanding the repeal of sedition law, as the Indian government is misusing the law to suppress any kind of opposition.
The petition addressed to Rajnath Singh, Home Minister of India, said that the British used the sedition law to curb free speech during India’s independence struggle. Now the government is using it to silence and harass those with divergent opinions.
In the present Tauseef Ahmed case, the Superintendent of Police, Durg, said that a First Information Report (FIR) had been registered against Tauseef Ahmed Bhat under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which defines sedition as any act or attempt “to bring into hatred or contempt, or…excite disaffection towards the government.”
The Superintendent told Amnesty International India, “His (Facebook) wall was filled with anti-India messages questioning the integrity of the country and insulting the national flag.”
The complainant who filed the FIR told Amnesty International India, “Many youth from our town approached us about Tauseef’s multiple posts, including one that said, ‘Get out from Kashmir’, and one in which he depicted India’s flag as a rat. It was a question of security and that’s why I think criminal investigation is necessary.”
According to Amnesty, the complainant said that he was a member of a Hindu nationalist organization which is linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“The right to freedom of expression extends to speech that may be considered offensive by some,” said Arijit Sen, programmes manager at Amnesty International India. “A criminal case for such conduct is not justified.”
According to Amnesty, Indian courts have ruled that expression can be restricted on grounds of public order only when it involves incitement to imminent violence or disorder.
“Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, the sedition law continues to be used to criminalize free speech. The Chhattisgarh government must immediately release Tauseef Ahmed Bhat and drop all charges against him, and take steps to repeal section 124A,” said Arijit Sen.