The president of the Andhra Pradesh unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Jaya Vindhyala, was remanded in judicial custody till May 24 by a court here on Monday, following her arrest on charges of posting derogatory comments on her Facebook timeline on Amanchi Krishna Mohan, MLA of Chirala — a town in Prakasam district — and Tamil Nadu Governor K. Rosaiah.
The police picked up Ms. Vindhyala in Hyderabad on Sunday based on a complaint filed by the ruling party legislator from Chirala.
She has been shifted to the district prison after she failed to furnish the sureties for the bail granted to her.
The police had invoked the provisions of section 66 (A) of the Information Technology Act, and section 120(B) of the IPC which deals with conspiracy.
The PUCL activist’s arrest has once again triggered a debate over the use, misuse and abuse of the provisions of the Information Technology act. Ms. Vindhyala had been opposing the local legislator on various issues and had brought out a fact-finding committee report on various issues accusing the legislator of malpractices. Her Facebook timeline includes her petitions submitted under the RTI act, the PUCL fact-finding committee reports, a legal notice sent by the MLA’s counsel, and her reply to it.
When contacted, the district superintendent of police K. Raghuram Reddy told The Hindu that the arrested activist had posted derogatory comments on the Tamil Nadu Governor and the MLA. The Facebook posts were a part of the fact-finding committee report. Eleven other persons, members of the fact-finding committee, were also cited as accused in the case, but none of them has been arrested so far.
The police had written to Facebook to delete her postings, but her timeline continues to show all her posts as on Monday night.
Senior advocate in New Delhi, Apar Gupta felt that the offence alleged to have been caused seemed to be an offence of defamation covered under Section 499 of the IPC. He said the addition of Section 66A to the FIR was now a growing phenomenon, where any crime with a remote connection to the Internet was getting an obligatory reference to section 66A of the IT Act.
“This is a real problem which is leading to watering down the safeguards against the registration of criminal cases where a complaint has to disclose the specific factual particulars which then in turn lead to the attraction of a specific offence. Since 66A is loosely framed and contains scant legislative guidance, so it can be easily applied in most cases,” Mr. Gupta, who works with Internet companies, pointed out.
Meanwhile, the PUCL has condemned the arrest and said Ms. Jaya Vindhyala had been exposing the corruption of the MLA and other senior officials of the State. In a statement, the national general secretary of PUCL, V. Suresh, questioned the need for the arrest quoting Supreme Court directions, which stipulated that the arrest was not necessary if the accused person would appear before the police on summons and when there was no danger of the person absconding, threatening witnesses or tampering with evidence. He said Ms. Vindhyala was a well known human rights activist and there was no need to arrest her. He demanded her immediate release and closure of all cases against her and other PUCL members in Prakasam district.