The frequency of citizens getting arrested for sharing so-called objectionable posts on Facebook in West Bengal is becoming alarming. A little over three months after a 17-year old boy was arrested for sharing an allegedly derogatory Facebook post, two men in Balurghat (about 400 km from Kolkata in North Bengal) were arrested last week for criticising the police over the sorry state of traffic blockades during the Durga Puja festivities, and the lack of availability of public transportation, reports NDTV.
The first post was made on September 27 and reads, “Bikers… whatever you do brothers, please ensure that your bikes are parked in the garage by 4 pm or else you can’t return home. If you are a business person, then those who have issued the diktats will arrange your meal…”
The second post was made on October 1 and reads, “On Ashtami, when I failed to get a ToTo (battery-operated rickshaws) after waiting for 55 minutes with my 18-month-old child in tow, I was thinking about you… If only I could’ve called one of your Help Desks and got some help.. But…”
Debajit Roy’s post was shared by Anupam Tarafdar. Both men were arrested on October 19, remanded to police custody for two days, and subsequently released on bail on October 22. The charges have not been dropped yet.
The report mentions that some of the comments under the post were deemed offensive, plus a particular police officer was targeted in the comments. But when we checked we didn’t find any comments that can be construed as even mildly offensive. However, it is possible that any such comments might have been deleted. This led to several of these people being called in for questioning by the police. Apparently, most of them apologized to the police for their comments, except Roy and Tarafdar, and hence they were arrested.
What’s truly scary is that two separate defamation cases with jail term up to 10 years have been filed against Roy and Tarafdar, of which one is by the local rickshaw drivers association who have claimed that the post has maligned their reputation, while the other is by the police.
The charges brought against them include: obstruction of a public servant discharging his public functions, assault or criminal force to deter a public servant, and making statements conducive to public mischief, according to this The Wire report. Apparently, certain sections of the IT Act which deal with hacking, identity theft and impersonation have also been included, which is ludicrous to say the least.
Raghav Chadha case
Last month, the Delhi High Court had dismissed Aam Aadmi Party leader Raghav Chadha’s plea that simply re-tweeting something cannot be grounds for a criminal defamation case. Chadha had re-tweeted a tweet by Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, which alleged certain wrongdoings on part of the then Delhi & Districts Cricket Association (DDCA) president and now Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley. This case will now go to trial.
The implications of this case are grave. We have to wait to see what the courts decide, but if tweeting or re-tweeting something can make one liable for a criminal defamation case, then we are in truly troubled times.
Internet shutdown in West Bengal
In July this year, a Facebook post by a 17-year old boy sparked off violent skirmishes in the Basirhat sub-division of North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal (less than 100 km to the east of Kolkata), and led to state authorities blocking Internet services to curb spread of rumors on social media and instant messaging services. This happened less than a month after Internet services were shutdown in Darjeeling, and further extended for 8 more days till Monday, July 10, 2017.