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Arrests over Facebook comments fan debate in India

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is a CPJ Blog post by Sumit Galhotra, CPJ Steiger Fellow:

The arrest of two women in India this week because of posting and "liking" an opinion on Facebook has further inflamed debate over the right to freedom of expression in the world's largest democracy.

Following the weekend death of ultra-nationalist politician Bal Thackeray, bustling Mumbai came to a standstill as many government offices, businesses, and schools were closed in a shutdown known as a bandh. As the citizens across the country debated whether the shutdown was justified, 21-year-old Shaheen Dhada posted on Facebook, "People like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a bandh for that." Her friend, Renu Srinivasan, "liked" the comment. When a leader of the Thackeray's right-wing Shiv Sena party, Bhushan Sankhe, complained, both women were arrested, according to local media.

According to news reports, the women were charged under a range of offenses, including section 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes acts creating or promoting enmity, hatred, or ill-will between classes, section 295(A) for hurting religious sentiments, and section 66(A) of the amended Information Technology Act, 2008, which bans electronic messaging that is "grossly offensive or has a menacing character." Both women were eventually released on bail and have apologized, according to news reports.

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