(modified version of photo by Legaleagle86 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

The Supreme Court  of India upheld a Bangalore-based couple’s right to vent their frustrations on the Bangalore Police Facebook page, reports The Times of India. The court ruled that it was a public forum and the commoner had every right to complain against the authorities.

Manik Taleja and his wife Sakshi Jawa met with an accident in June last year and were taken to a police station where an officer allegedly misbehaved and threatened them. The couple took to the Bangalore traffic police’s Facebook page and accused the officer of misbehaviour. Upset at the comment, the officer filed an FIR against the couple which included the charges of criminal intimidation and assault aimed at obstructing him from discharging his duty in Section 503 of the IPC. The couple approached the Karnataka High Court which refused to reject the FIR.

The Supreme Court quashed the officer’s FIR saying that mere expression of any word without any intention to cause alarm would not be sufficient to slap charges of criminal intimidation. It also said there was also no intention on the part of the couple to obstruct the officer from discharging his duty. “We are of the view that in the facts and circumstances of the case, it would be unjust to allow the process of the court to be continued against the appellants and consequently the order of the high court is liable to be set aside,” the court added.

Interestingly, the Bangalore police had taken to Twitter urging people not to abuse them and they would block people, who write abusing messages on its account. The Bangalore police was on the receiving end of Twitter following the arrest of Mehdi Masroor Biswas for allegedly running the pro-ISIS Twitter account @shaamiwitness.

To like is to commit crime?
There have been several instances where the police have taken to action against citizens over even simple acts such as liking a Facebook post which we feel will damage dissent in the country. We look at some of the incidents involving social media over the last year:

In May, a 24-year-old MBA student  from Bangalore was arrested and booked under “Section 505 of the IPC for issuing statements amounting to public mischief with intent to cause fear or alarm” and Section 66 A of IT Act. The complaint was filed by Jayant Tinaikar in Belgaum, who had received an offensive message on Whatapp on May 16, which was eventually sourced to Sayed Waqar, who was arrested. The Whatsapp message showed the final rites of Narendra Modi being performed, attended by L K Advani, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Baba Ramdev, Maneka Gandhi and Varun Gandhi, with the caption “Na Jeet Paye Jhooton Ka Sardar — Ab Ki Baar Antim Sanskar (A false leader will never win, this time it’s final rites).”

Devu Chodankar, a shipbuilding diploma holder working in Mumbai, was arrested for posting on the Goa+ Facebook Group, that if elected to power, Modi would unleash a ‘holocaust’. This post was deleted subsequently, but an FIR filed by former CII Goa Chairman Atul Pai Kane with the Cybercrime Cell, under sections sections 153(A), 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and section 125 of the People’s Representation Act, and Section 66-A of the IT Act.

In June, the Maharashtra police planned to take action against people who “liked’ objectionable posts pertaining to Chhatrapati Shivaji, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and the late Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray on Facebook. This followed protests over alleged morphed photos of Chhatrapati Shivaji, late Shiv Sena head Bal Thackeray and and Hindu gods which reportedly appeared on Facebook. The protests also apparently led to the death of a Pune techie.

Later in August, the Karnataka Police issued a warning to the citizens of Belgaum informing them that uploading, modifying, resending and liking malicious or misleading images, videos and messages through any medium with an intention of hurting religious sentiments knowingly or unknowingly is a punishable offence under sections 66A of the Information Technology Act and 153A, 295 of the Indian Penal Code.

The Mumbai Police blocked over 650 posts and pages “on a popular social networking site” for allegedly uploading the controversial cartoons featured in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo,