FB status row: Mumbai rebuffs arrests of women

Palghar

The arrest of two young girls, one of whom posted a comment on Facebook criticising the bandh after the demise of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, shocked the legal community as much as it did the public at large.

"This is scandalous and ridiculous. There is freedom of speech in this country and a person may disagree with something. It shows complete intolerance," said lawyer Mihir Desai. He represented Aseem Trivedi, a cartoonist who booked for sedition, a charge that the government decided to drop later.

Officers of the Palghar police had initially invoked section 295 A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the IPC. Director General of Police, Maharashtra, Sanjeev Dayal has ordered Inspector General (Konkan Range) Sukhwinder Singh to conduct an inquiry into the incident and submit a report by Saturday.

While Shaheen Dhada put up the post on her profile, her friend Renu Shrinivas 'liked' it, the police said.

Criminal lawyer Satish Borulkar said the police cannot arrest anyone without issuing notice as mandated in the Criminal Procedure Code and the two girls must move court for compensation for wrongful arrest. "Why were they arrested? Were they going to abscond or were they a threat to the society? This amounts to police atrocity," Borulkar said.

Senior advocate Amit Desai said the girls can seek the quashing of the FIR and compensation but they will face the stigma of arrest forever. "It is time that steps are taken against officers who exceed their powers," he said.

Some lawyers feel that comments on social networking sites can mould public opinion. "It's a matter of interpretation. Balasaheb Thackeray was a leader with mass following. Some people respected him like a God. If their religious feelings are hurt then why can't section 295 A be invoked," said a leading prosecution lawyer.

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