Explain arrest for Facebook post, top court tells state

SC also wants to know action taken against cops involved

Calling the arrest of two Palghar (Thane district) girls for a Facebook post an "abuse" of the process of law, Supreme Court (SC) directed the Maharashtra government Friday to explain the manner of the arrest.

A bench led by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir issued a notice to Maharashtra to explain the questionable arrest under a contentious Information Technology (IT) Act provision, which permits jail up to three years for "annoying" and "offensive" messages sent electronically.

"We would like to know what action you (state) have taken or propose to take against the policemen. The process of law has been abused as far as arrest of these children is concerned...The Maharashtra government is directed to explain the manner in which the two girls — Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan — were arrested for posting comments on Facebook."

Earlier, as sought by the bench a day before it agreed to hear a PIL by a Delhi law student, attorney general G E Vahanvati appeared and concurred with SC that the provision under IT Act was abused.

Referring to the arrest of the two girls for questioning a Mumbai shutdown after the death of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, he said section 66A of IT Act was not applicable in the case and police added two serious IPC sections to make the arrest.

"I am in agreement with the concern of the court and would request the bench to examine the matter. Some guidelines and directions will be required in such matters. Please examine section 66A of IT Act, 2000, and I will assist the court," submitted AG.

Vahanvati said there was nothing wrong with the objectives of section 66A but seeking approval of senior police officers should be made mandatory before making arrests under it.

SC, however, questioned the term "to the satisfaction" of a senior police officer. It said this entailed a wide and vague connotation. To this, AG said hence the court intervention was required.

The bench also issued notices to the governments of West Bengal, Delhi and Puducherry after senior lawyer Mukul Rohatgi, who appeared for petitioner Shreya Singhal, sought to make the states party to the case in the wake of similar arrests there.

The PIL cites arrest of a professor of Jadavpur University in West Bengal for allegedly posting online a cartoon showing Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in poor light. Similarly, a businessman was arrested by Puducherry Police for making an allegation on Twitter against a Tamil Nadu politician.

Rohatgi said Delhi must be made a party to the case since it was the national capital and the petitioner its resident.

SC asked the state governments to respond within four weeks and posted the matter for hearing after six weeks.

The court also admitted a plea of Aseem Trivedi, arrested in Mumbai in September on sedition charges for allegedly mocking the Constitution, against section 66A. The cartoonist said the law was being used to curb freedom.

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