Facebook arrests row reaches top court, CJI bench admits IT Act PIL

SC

EVEN as the Centre decided to issue new guidelines for arrests under a controversial provision of the IT Act, the Supreme Court Thursday questioned the reaction of the state and the "might" of the police in the arrest of two Maharashtra girls for a Facebook post and said such incidents "outraged the conscience" of many citizens.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, while agreeing to admit the PIL by a law student from Delhi seeking the controversial provision be declared unconstitutional, said the matter required their "consideration" and asked for the assistance of Attorney General G E Vahanvati to decide the legal issues involved.

"When were these girls arrested? As per the media reports, they were arrested after sunset? Might of the police, it seems, got activated only after the sunset," the bench said after senior lawyer Mukul Rohatgi mentioned the matter and called for its immediate intervention. He cited the arrest of two girls for questioning Mumbai being shut down after Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's death on Facebook.

Agreeing to examine the matter at length on Friday, the bench told Rohatgi that the court had also been contemplating taking suo moto cognisance of the incident. "We were wondering why no one has approached the Supreme Court over this and even thought of taking up the issue suo motu. We were waiting to see what steps you take," it added.

"The way in which the state has reacted in this case and also the police action, we think this matter requires some consideration from us," the bench said.

The court also took note of a similar incident in which a professor from Jadavpur University in West Bengal was arrested for allegedly posting a cartoon online showing chief minister Mamata Banerjee in poor light. This came after Rohatgi cited the incident to demand that section 66A of the IT Act be dropped since it was "vague, undefined and was being used to curtail one's freedom of speech and expression". Violation of section 66A is bailable and can be punished with a jail term of up to three years.

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