In a press release dated July 15th 2014(reported by Medianama), the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) stated that “it has reiterated its recommendations in yet another reminder that the Government of Maharashtra pay Rs.50 thousand each to the two girls, who, it held, were illegally detained by the police following a Facebook post after the death of Shiv Sena Chief Balasaheb Thackeray. The Commission has held that their detention was in violation of freedom of speech and expression of views guaranteed in the Constitution of India.”
On November 19, 2012, the police had arrested a 21-year-old girl from Palgarh who had questioned the rationality of the total shutdown in the city for Thackeray’s funeral on her Facebook account. Another girl was also arrested in the same case since she had “Liked” the post on Facebook.
The Facebook account and the post which was soon deleted, was reported to have – “people like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a bandh for that”, according to the MumbaiMirror.com.
The girl and her friend were booked under Section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for ‘deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs’. They were later also charged under Section 505 (2) of the IPC for making ‘statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes’.
The police later added Section 66 (A) of the Information Technology Act 2000 on them. Section 66 (A) deals with - messages sent via computer or communication devices which may be “grossly offensive,” have “menacing character,” or even cause “annoyance or inconvenience”.
The NHRC conducted an enquiry into the Facebook post and observed that the police had no reasonable ground for invoking Section 505(2) IPC. The girl’s comment only indicated that the bandh was not necessary as a mark of respect to the departed leader and that the city was shut down due to fear and not due to respect. It stated that bandhs had already been declared as illegal by the court.
NHRC has also observed that every citizen can interpret these comments as per his/her thoughts. However, these did not have any contents to attract provisions of the Information Technology Act, 2000. As per Article 19 of the Constitution of India, every individual has a right to freedom of expression, which is a Fundamental Right and therefore, their arrest was a serious violation of human rights.
The NHRC has asked the Chief Secretary of the State to submit the compliance report along with the proof of payment within four weeks failing which, it may be constrained to take recourse to coercive process under Section 13 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. This has been issued after the Commission received no response to its notice and reminders to show cause why monetary relief should not be paid to the victims of human rights violation.