Youth jailed for Facebook post: Azam Khan says action against boy is justified

Lucknow: A class XI student of Bareilly who was arrested in a dramatic manner by a special branch team of Rampur police on 18 March after allegedly sharing an ‘objectionable’ comment on social networking site Facebook against senior Samajwadi Party leader and Uttar Pradesh Minister Azam Khan was granted bail by a Rampur court on Thursday.

Later in the day, responding to a PIL, the Supreme Court sought an explanation from the Uttar Pradesh government to explain the circumstances in which Section 66A of the Information Technology Act (IT) was imposed against the boy.

 Youth jailed for Facebook post: Azam Khan says action against boy is justified

Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan. AFP

While on one hand the incident displayed the extent to which the police in the state, especially in Rampur, could go to please Azam Khan, on the other hand it also indicated that the extent to which a provision of the IT Act could be used (or misused) by the government to curb freedom of expression.

The student named Gulrez ‘Vikky’ Khan is enrolled in Woodrow School in Bareilly and was arrested on Monday on a complaint lodged with the police by the minister's PRO Fasahat Ali Khan Shanu. Immediately a team of crime branch sleuths was constituted which nabbed the youth from his residence. He was produced on Wednesday before the court of Judicial Magistrate Azad Singh which sent him on a 14-day remand.

He was kept in the lock-up at Ganj Kotwali police station and was booked under Section 66A of Information Technology Act, sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, etc.), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) and 505 (public mischief) of the IPC. Initial reports quoted the police as saying that the boy would be produced before the minister.

On Thursday (19 March), the court granted bail to him on two bail bonds worth Rs 20,000 each, and he was asked to cooperate with police during investigation and not leave the city pending the investigation.

A police officer Aley Hassan was quoted as saying that the comments posted by the boy could incite communal tensions and spoil peace and harmony. It is learnt that the boy had himself written something and shown as if the comments were made by the minister. According to local sources, the boy’s family members claimed that he had merely shared the post. The family members also expressed their willingness to apologise to Azam Khan.

Khan had defended the police action. "A Class XII student has made objectionable comments against me on FB. Law is enforced with strictness and he has been arrested within 24 hours. Comments were made against me earlier also on FB," Khan had told reporters in Lucknow. The BJP and BSP have condemned the arrest, saying it indicated how intolerant the SP government in UP had become to criticism of any kind.

Incidentally on 27 February, the Supreme Court had reserved its judgment on the validity of Section 66A of IT Act after marathon arguments from both sides. The petition was filed by a law student Shreya Shingal and other NGOs seeking quashing of Section 66 A of IT act. These petitions were filed after two girls at Palghar in Maharashtra were arrested after they made comments on the protests after the death of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray in 2012.

When the petition was heard initially in 2014, the Union Home Ministry issued directives to all state governments that arrests under Section 66 A can only be made with the approval of senior police officers.

The provisions of this law have led to several cases and arrests in Uttar Pradesh. A few weeks ago, a complaint was filed against a tourism officer of Varanasi Ravinder Kumar Mishra for uploading "objectionable pictures" on social media sites of UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and Azam Khan. He too was booked under similar charges.

In August 2013, a Dalit writer and social activist Kanwal Bharti was arrested by Rampur police for a Facebook post against Samajawadi Party after the suspension of IAS officer Durga Nagpal. Bharti was also booked under section 66-A of the Information Technology Act.

Other well-known examples include that of a cartoonist who was jailed in Mumbai in September 2012 on charges of sedition for his anti-corruption drawings. The charges were later dropped. In April 2012, the West Bengal government had arrested a teacher who had emailed to friends a cartoon that was critical of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. He too was later released on bail.

Azam Khan continues to be in the news for his typical statements that often cause a controversy. On 2 February, 2014, three policemen of Rampur were suspended for dereliction of duty after a delay in recovery of buffaloes stolen from his farmhouse. Several police teams had been formed to launch a sustained campaign to recover the stolen bovines. In November 2014, Azam Khan had hosted a royal birthday bash for SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav complete with huge cake, a Victorian horse-drawn buggy and extravagant paraphernalia. On being asked where the money came from to organise the show, Azam had said, though in sarcasm, "Dawood, Abu Salem and Taliban" were footing the bill.

During the last year’s Lok Sabha election campaign, Azam had been charged with promoting religious enmity for his speeches. The Election Commission also banned him from holding public rallies.

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Updated Date: Mar 19, 2015 18:53:52 IST