WhatsApp jokes to Facebook posts: How Section 66A was abused in Kashmir

Late in August 2014, a message circulated on a WhatsApp group managed by a local journalist in Srinagar, shockingly announced the demise of famous Pakistani cricketer turned politician Imran Khan, asking its group members to come to Srinagar's Lal Chowk for in-absentia funeral prayers.

The news was a hoax. But the police, nevertheless, lodged a case against the group administrators under section 66A of the IT Act for sharing information that could "create disturbances and destroy peace in Kashmir".

The police booked three men, Javed Ahmad from Budgam, Raja Hilal from Pulwama town and Tahir Bukhari from Baramulla district for spreading rumors and fabricated information, using the Internet based messaging application.

Image used for representational purposes only: AFP

Image used for representational purposes only: AFP

"It was a joke and no one among us took it seriously," Ajaz Ahmad, one of the recipients of the message, told Firstpost on Tuesday.

Kashmir has been a particularly enthusiastic user of section 66A of the Information and Technology act.

The Jammu and Kashmir police have, in the last four years, booked scores of people including politicians, journalists and students under the act, which was scrapped by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

London based BBC broadcaster and now PDP leader Nayeema Ahmad Mahjoor, is one of the persons who found themselves of the wrong side of 66A after making a Facebook post expressing her opinion about a shooting in Lal Chowk, which left a civilian dead.

"I had causally asked people on Facebook, as a journalist, what had happened in Kashmir and had expressed my apprehensions about the killing, but the state didn't like my opinion and I was booked by the police. It was an curb on the freedom of speech and expression," Nayeema told Firspost.

Nayeema believes that case against her was an attempt to send out a larger message that expressing political views on social networks would not be tolerated.

"I always had apprehensions that I might get harassed or arrested.Every time, you talk of human rights violations, you are slapped with something or the other. I don't know what has happened to the FIR though police said they would withdraw it. Now, I feel relieved today. I'm happy that the act has been scrapped," she added.

Faizan Samad was the first youth from Kashmir valley to be booked under Section 66A - for posting pro-Independence slogans when civilian unrest broke out over the killing of teenager Tufail Matoo in police action.

At least 16 people were booked in 2012 for their alleged role in organizing protests on social networking websites.

In October 2012, three youth from Kishtwar district were arrested and sent to jail for 40 days after they were tagged in an allegedly blasphemous video posted on Facebook. One of them had commented on the post.

Kishori Sharma, Bansi Lal and Moti Lal Sharma were charged with desecrating religious symbols and inciting communal hatred under the IT ACT.

In January, 2013, police filed a case (Fir No 12/2013) under the same act against an unknown person who had uploaded a two-minute video clip on Facebook showing a group of policemen ruthlessly beating a young boy inside a police in north Kashmir's Baramulla district. The boys were shown pleading before two senior officers, even as the cops
ripped off their pants and hurled abuses at them in Kashmiri.

The Supreme Court's likely verdict on the constitutional validity of the act on Tuesday has validated the argument that 66A is too loosely worded, and has been used by the police to book people despite several directives from the Supreme Court about the potential abuse of the provision.

Section 66 (A), which prohibited the communication of information of a "grossly offensive" or "menacing" nature through computers and communication devices, has been used in the state to arrest people over posts and comments which the government claimed were anti-national, communally sensitive" or abusive.

Meanwhile, the police said Tuesday that it would review the cases of all the people, who were booked under section 66 of the Information Technology (IT) Act across the state.

"We will look into the cases in light of the Supreme Court verdict. So, whatever remedial measures need to be taken, we will do that," Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kashmir, Javed Gilani, said.


Published Date: Mar 26, 2015 07:30 am | Updated Date: Mar 26, 2015 07:33 am


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