Press Council of India chairperson Markandey Katju on Monday slammed Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan after the police arrested two women who protested on Facebook against Sunday’s bandh over the death of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray.
In a letter to Mr. Chavan on Monday, Mr. Katju, a former Supreme Court judge, said he was forwarding an e-mail he had received stating that a woman was arrested in Maharashtra for protesting on Facebook against the shutdown in Mumbai. She was arrested for allegedly hurting religious sentiments, the letter said. Mr. Katju was going by the email, based on Sunday’s news reports that reported the arrest. On Monday, the police said two young women were arrested for their comments on the bandh.
“To my mind it is absurd to say that protesting against a bandh hurts religious sentiments. Under Article 19(1) (a) of our Constitution, freedom of speech is a guaranteed fundamental right. We are living in a democracy, not a fascist dictatorship. In fact this arrest itself appears to be a criminal act, since under Sections 341 and 342 it is a crime to wrongfully arrest or wrongfully confine someone who has committed no crime,” Mr. Katju pointed out.
He told Mr. Chavan that if the facts reported were correct, the police personnel who ordered as well as implemented the arrest of the women should be suspended, arrested, chargesheeted and criminal prosecution initiated against them. If this was not done, Mr. Katju said, he would deem it that as Chief Minister, Mr. Chavan was unable to run the State in a democratic manner as envisaged by the Constitution to which he has taken oath.
However, over five hours after his first e-mail, Mr. Katju shot off another one to Mr. Chavan saying he had not been informed if any action had been taken. Mr. Chavan had forwarded Mr. Katju’s e-mail to the Additional Chief Secretary (Home), Amitabh Rajan, but this seems to have angered the PCI chairperson more. In the second e-mail, he said: “You have not replied to my e-mail but only forwarded it to someone called Amitabh Rajan, whom I do not know, and who has not had the courtesy to respond to me. Please realise that the matter is much too serious to be taken in this cavalier manner, because the principle of liberty is at stake. The entire nation wants to know what action you have taken. I would, therefore, request you to immediately let me know what you are doing in this matter.”
Does freedom of speech, guaranteed by Article 19(1) (a), exist in Maharashtra, Mr. Katju asked. He told Mr. Chavan that silence was not an option and that the entire nation was furious at this apparently illegal arrest. He has asked for explanations on why an arrest was made for putting up “apparently innocuous material on Facebook, and what action was taken against the delinquent policemen and others involved in this high handedness and blatant misuse of state machinery.”