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Marathi actor arrested for Facebook post against Sharad Pawar

It’s been criticised as yet another blow to free speech online.

The Maharashtra Police has arrested Marathi actor Ketaki Chitale on May 14 over her alleged derogatory social media post against Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, The Hindu reported.

The 29-year-old television actor had posted a sarcastic Marathi poem on her Facebook profile, attributed to another person, that not only mentions the Pawar surname and an age (80) but also refers to Pawar’s physical ailments. On May 15, a Thane court remanded Chitale to police custody till May 18.

Meanwhile, 21-year-old pharmaceutical student and former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) worker Nikhil Bhamre from Nashik, was detained for tweeting: “Time has come for Baramati’s Gandhi……to create Nathuram Godse of Baramati.” While Bhamre’s post doesn’t name Pawar either, Baramati in Pune district is Sharad Pawar’s hometown.

These two posts sparked massive outrage among NCP workers in Maharashtra with party leaders lodging complaints at several police stations in the state, as per The Hindu report. Leaders and activists from across political lines have condemned Chitale’s remarks and questioned the state of the freedom of speech in India, including former chief minister and state BJP head Devendra Fadnavis as well as Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray, the report added.

What are the charges against Chitale?

Chitale was arrested under the following sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC):

  • Section 500: This section is concerned with punishment for defamation. It reads, “Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”
  • Section 501: This section deals with punishments for printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory. “Whoever prints or engraves any matter, knowing or having good reason to believe that such matter is defamatory of any person, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both,” it reads.
  • Section 505 (2): While Section 505, in general, tackles the issue of statements leading to public mischief, sub-section 2 deals with the punishment for making defamatory statements in a place of worship. It reads, “Whoever commits an offence specified in sub-section (2) in any place of worship or in any assembly engaged in the performance of religious worship or religious ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine.”
  • Section 153A: It constitutes a cognizable offence of “promoting disharmony, enmity or feelings of hatred between different groups on the grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc. and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.”

Recent arrests due to social media posts

  • Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani arrested over anti-Modi tweet: Mevani was arrested by the Assam Police on April 20 from the Palampur Circuit House in Gujarat in relation to a tweet he posted about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It appears that the independent MLA was charged under Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015.
  • WhatsApp status leads to over 40 people being arrested in Karnataka: A student’s WhatsApp status, showing a morphed picture of a mosque with a saffron-coloured flag atop it, led to multiple arrests in Karnataka. The status had been widely picked up by around 40 other individuals and reportedly led to violence in the state’s Hubballi district.

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