New Delhi: Human right body Amnesty International has urged the BJP-led Madhya Pradesh government to drop charges against and immediately release two Muslim students arrested for allegedly sharing a satirical image of the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Mohan Bhagwat which is the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Campaigner at Amnesty International India, Abhirr VP on Friday said that “Arresting people simply because they mocked public figures is an absurd overreaction by the authorities.”
Following complaints by some Hindutva elements, authorities in Madhya Pradesh swiftly acted and arrested 22-year-old Shaqir Yunus and 21-year-old college student Wasim Sheikh from Khargone on 17 March. They were arrested for allegedly sharing the satirical image on Whatsapp and Facebook. Complainants said that the men had hurt the feelings of the Hindu community. The digitally altered image made fun of the RSS’s recent decision to change its uniform from khaki shorts to brown trousers.
Both the youths were arrested under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act for “publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form” and Section 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code for “promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes”. A local court has remanded them in judicial custody for two weeks. If convicted, they could face imprisonment for up to five years.
“Last year, the Supreme Court struck down section 66A of the Information Technology Act for violating the constitutional right to freedom of expression. It is disappointing to see the Madhya Pradesh police continuing to abuse the Act,” said Abhirr VP.
Under international human rights law and standards, protecting the rights of others from advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to hostility, discrimination or violence justifies some restrictions on the right to freedom of expression. However, advocacy of hatred requires a clear showing of intent to urge others to discriminate, be hostile toward, or commit violence against the group in question. There must be a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the resulting risk of discrimination, hostility or violence.