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Arrest for Facebook 'Like': Friends accused of breaking speech laws

Arrest for Facebook 'Like': Friends accused of breaking speech laws
Arrest for Facebook 'Like': Friends accused of breaking speech lawsYouTube

An arrest for a Facebook "Like" got a young woman in Mumbai, India arrested Sunday. Her friend was also charged for posting an anti-Bal Thackeray status update. Both friends are in heat for allegedly breaking India's Internet free-speech laws.

As the Huffington Post noted in a Nov. 19 report, two women, who criticized the temporary shutdown of Mumbai in wake of Thackeray's death, attracted attention from authorities.

Shaheen Dhada, a 21-year-old college student was arrested for a Facebook status update, while her friend Renu Srinivasan was charged for clicking "Like" on the update. The shocking arrests represent a crackdown of those who are supposedly exercising their rights to say what they want on the Internet.

Dhada's Facebook post read:

"Respect is earned, not given and definitely not forced. Today Mumbai shuts down due to fear and not due to respect." She also spoke out in frustration when an estimated 2,000,000 people took to the streets of India after Thackeray died. It all amounted to a massive shutdown of the city as many businesses including transportation providers closed.

Bear in mind that India is the world's largest democracy and supporter of freedom of speech and expression. Ironically, when two of its residents spoke out about how they and scores of others were inconvenienced when the city shut down in tribute of Thackeray's death, they were jailed over the Facebook "Like" charges.

Bal Thackeray died Saturday after an extended illness. He was a popular and controversial chief and the founder of the Shiv Sena. As a radical right-wing Hindu nationalist in Maharashtra, he was known to incite violence and divisiveness with anti-Muslim rhetoric. Liberals often spoke out sharply against his legacy of political violence and alleged xenophobia.

The two arrested for the Facebook "Like" and status update were said to have violated section 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code. Simply put, it punishes those for "creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes."

In addition, the Indian women were charged with Section 66A of the Information Technology Act that makes it a crime on the Internet for "grossly offensive or of menacing character."

Finally, the pair was charged with Indian Penal Code 295A, "which makes insulting or outraging religious feelings an offense. The punishment for each count is three years imprisonment, according to Christian Science Monitor.

Despite the release of the Mumbai women after their arrest for in the Facebook "Like" matter, many have spoken out in outrage. Ironically, even right-wingers say the arrests are an assault on free speech in India.

Were their arrests politically-motivated in the wake of Bal Thackeray's death?

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