India’s top court Friday ordered a state government to explain the arrest of two women for a comment one of them posted on Facebook, in a case that has sparked nationwide outrage over the misuse of India’s Internet laws.
The women were arrested in Thane, a suburb of Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra, and immediately freed on bail for criticizing the shutdown of India’s financial capital after the death last month of a powerful right-wing politician. While one woman posted the comment, her friend who “liked” the comment was also arrested.
The Supreme Court gave Maharashtra four weeks to explain the circumstances under which the women were arrested.
The court was hearing a petition filed by Shreya Singhal, a student in New Delhi, challenging the Internet law and the possibility of its misuse. Singhal said the wording of the law was vague, allowing it to be abused by people in authority.
The widespread protests in the media and the public outcry that followed the arrests led the Maharashtra government to last week suspend the two policemen and transfer the magistrate who had approved the arrest and granted bail.
On Thursday, India’s federal telecommunications ministry issued fresh guidelines making it more difficult for police to arrest people for posts on social networking sites. Any arrest for a social media comment that is perceived to create social unrest will now have to be approved by a senior police official.
The Mumbai arrests came barely two months after the Maharashtra police arrested a political cartoonist on sedition charges for drawings that mocked corruption in the Indian government. The charges were later dropped.
The Supreme Court also issued similar notices to the governments of West Bengal state and the southeastern city state of Puducherry that critics say abused authority by arresting citizens for social media posts.
Earlier this year, a university professor was arrested in West Bengal for forwarding an email cartoon that caricatured the chief minister there. He was later released on bail.
In Puducherry, a businessman was arrested in October for a tweet criticizing the son of India’s finance minister. The businessman is also out on bail.
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