Bangalore: Youth arrested for sharing anti-Modi messages on WhatsApp

According to IBN-Live, while four of them have been released on Sunday, the fifth accused in the case, Sayed Waqar, who is an MBA student in Bhatkal, Karnataka has been handed over to Belgaum Police.

FP Staff May 26, 2014 10:43:39 IST
Bangalore: Youth arrested for sharing anti-Modi messages on WhatsApp

Five students were on Saturday detained by the Bangalore Police for allegedly circulating anti-Narendra Modi messages on smartphone messenger WhatsApp.  According to IBN-Live, while four of them were released on Sunday, the fifth accused in the case, Sayed Waqar, who is an MBA student in Bhatkal, Karnataka, was handed over to the Belgaum Police. An FIR has been registered against Waqar by the Khanapur police in Belgaum district, says the report.

According to Times of India, the arrest, which took place in Bangalore, "was based on a complaint lodged in Belgaum district by RTI activist Jayant Mukund Tinaikar," who said he received an offensive message against the PM-to-be on 16 May.

Tinaikar told TOI  that he got an image of Modi along with other BJP leaders. "I immediately brought it to the notice of senior BJP leaders in Delhi, who, in turn, told me to immediately approach the superintendent of police and file a complaint," he told the paper.

So what did the offending message contain? According to a Bangalore Mirror report, "The morphed picture showed the final rites of Modi being performed, attended by L K Advani, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Baba Ramdev, Maneka Gandhi and Varun Gandhi. It had a caption: Na Jeet Paye Jhooton Ka Sardar — Ab Ki Baar Antim Sanskar (A false leader will never win, this time it's final rites)."

Bangalore Youth arrested for sharing antiModi messages on WhatsApp

WhatsApp logo is seen in this file photo.

The report adds, that "during the investigation, police found that the message originated in Bangalore and was sent by Waqar." The other four who were detained were Waqar's roommates but were let off after questioning.  Interestingly the report also adds that Waqar claimed to be an Aam Aadmi Party worker, but police could not confirm this.

Tinaikar also told the Mirror in Bangalore,  "I got the message only once, but they have shared it with many people. We can't rule out any terror link either. Well educated people, software technology and Bhatkal - all are here and they are spreading this message showing a picture of Modi as a dead body, which is wrong and alarming."

Waqar's arrest comes under Section 505 of the IPC for issuing statements amounting to public mischief with intent to cause fear or alarm and Section 66 of the IT Act for sending offensive messages through communication service.

This arrest comes soon after Firstpost had reported that Goa Police booked a young shipping professional for a Facebook post which said that the Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi would start a holocaust in India. Devu Chodankar, who is absconding, had written on a Facebook forum on Goa+, a popular forum with over 47,000 members, if elected to power, Modi would unleash a 'holocaust'. He deleted his post subsequently.

However, justifying his post subsequently on another popular local Facebook forum, Goa Speaks, Chodankar while apologising for his choice of words had stood by the sum of his argument, calling it his crusade against the “tyranny of fascists”. He also claimed that some elitist right wing elements were in the process of filing a first information report with the Goa Police’s Cyber Cell.

Both incidents will once again raise questions about how Section 66-A of the IT Act continues to be used by the police. The Section deals with punishment for those who send offensive messages via a communication service. In Waqar's case his message while it is extremely distasteful, arresting him and raising questions of a possible terror threat without any concrete proof is not only excessive but will also likely not stand in a court of law.

Where Section 66-A is concerned, it reads,

"Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,

(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character;
(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience,  danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,
(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages."

Given that even words such as "annoyance, inconvenience" are used in this section, there's no doubt that the former UPA government, which in fact hurriedly added this section to the amended version of the IT Act in 2008, has ensured that the law can be interpreted and enforced in the harshest of ways. This is why Facebook posts that are little more than over-the-top criticism or just distasteful WhatsApp Messages end up attracting arrests.

The BJP should be concerned that these two cases were registered even before the new government is sworn in, for the cases raise questions about whether the Modi sarkaar will enforce greater alarmism and censorship in the name of increased regulation.

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