Outrage at India arrests over Facebook post

image captionIn recent months, Indian police have acted against several people for their posts on Facebook or Twitter

The arrest of two women on Monday over a comment on Facebook has sparked off widespread anger in India.

One of the women had criticised the shutdown of Mumbai in her post, after the death of politician Bal Thackeray, while the other "liked" the comment.

The women, accused of "promoting enmity between classes", were released on bail after appearing in court.

The death of the controversial Hindu nationalist politician on Saturday afternoon brought Mumbai to a halt.

In her Facebook comment on Sunday, 21-year-old Shaheen Dhanda wrote: "People like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a 'bandh' [shutdown] for that."

Her 20-year-old friend Renu Srinivasan 'liked' the status.

'Abuse of authority'

The Times of India newspaper responded with the headline: "Shame: 2 girls arrested for harmless online comment."

The newspaper said the arrests were a "clear case of abuse of authority".

"The girl was not slandering anybody, nor was she promoting hatred towards any community".

The newspaper said the charges should be dropped and a case of "wrongful arrest" registered against the police.

Press Council of India Chairman Markandey Katju has written a letter to the Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan criticising the arrests.

"We are living in a democracy, not a fascist dictatorship. In fact, this arrest itself appears to be a criminal act, since... it is a crime to wrongfully arrest or wrongfully confine someone who has committed no crime," Mr Katju, a former Supreme Court judge, said.

Telecommunications Minister Kapil Sibal was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency that he was "deeply saddened" by the arrests.

"It is their point of view, and enforcement of these laws are not to ban people from expressing their views," he said.

In recent months, police have arrested a number of people in cases which are being seen as a test of India's commitment to freedom of speech.

In October, Ravi Srinivasan, a 46-year-old businessman in the southern Indian city of Pondicherry, was arrested for a tweet criticising Karti Chidambaram, son of Indian Finance Minister P Chidambaram. He was later released on bail.

In September, there was outrage when a cartoonist was jailed in Mumbai on charges of sedition for his anti-corruption drawings. The charges were later dropped.

And in April, the West Bengal government 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.

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