A businessman from Puducherry has been arrested for a tweet he made against Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s son, Karti and could face three years in jail. Here’s the story and how we could support him and ourselves for our right to free speech.
The law of a land is often abused to punish the weak. In India, it is the government against the common man. On the 20th of October, a plastic parts supplier from Puducherry, Ravi Srinivasan made a tweet in reference to Karti Chidambaram, son of Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, in which he stated “got reports that karthick chidambaram has amassed more wealth than vadra”.
Ten days later, on the morning of October 30, he was arrested by Puducherry police with charges under Section 66-A of the Information Technology Act,2008 and could be facing a three-year term in jail. That’s the state of free speech in India!
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. In a sense, the tweet does cause offense, especially when a common man says he has got reports that could expose Karti’s unaccounted wealth just as Vadra was exposed in the DLF deals by anti-corruption activist, Arvind Kejriwal.
But, Ravi was only referring to what he had read in the newspapers; it wasn’t even his own opinion!
So, who gets to decide what’s arrest-worthy and what’s not in this country. Two months back, political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested on charges of sedition. Interestingly, both Aseem and Ravi are associated with the IAC (India Against Corruption) movement. In April, a Kolkata university professor was arrested for forwarding a cartoon spoof on the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee. Apart from other charges, Section 66-A of the IT act has been the culprit in both the cases.
This tweet by Ravi has brought back many things to forth amongst a weak IT law in India. Pranesh Prakash, Policy Director of the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society, says the clause is “overbroad,” “unconstitutional,” and does not satisfy Article 19 (2) of the Constitution which allows for restrictions on freedom of speech and expression.
The other problem he pointed out was the lack of an equivalent law in offline communications. He explained, “If you write a book that annoys or inconveniences me, even deliberately, I have no civil or criminal recourse. But if you send an e-mail message, or post a tweet, you could face three years in jail.”
So, the need of the hour is to raise our voice against Ravi’s arrest through this Twitter campaign started by a non-profit organization, ‘Get Up for Change (GUC)’. And, for a stronger IT act that differentiates free speech from hate or defamatory speech.
Till then, you can follow Ravi on Twitter who has amassed more than 2000 followers in a single day, from just 16 followers until this incident!