Two AI employees, victims of a midnight arrest in 2012, continue their battle against Section 66A of Information Technology Act

The charges slapped against two young women from Palghar for making a comment on Facebook about a politician may have been dropped by the Maharashtra police authorities in November 2012, but two Air India employees charged similarly under Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act continue their battle against the charges.

The two men — Mayank Sharma and K.V. Jaganathrao — were taken into custody by the Mumbai police in a dramatic midnight arrest on May 10, 2012.

It was one year after the arrest that the Mumbai police had filed the charge sheet, accusing Sharma and Jaganathrao of having uploaded lewd and defamatory content against politicians on social networking websites such as Facebook and Orkut. The charge sheet dropped the charges pressed under Section 2 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, against the two trade union leaders. One of the charges was of allegedly bringing dishonour to the national flag by posting objectionable photographs.

In March 2012, both were charged under Section 506 (2) of the Indian Penal Code along with other Acts mentioned above, in the First Information Report (FIR). The complainant, Sagar Karnik, a member of a rival trade union, had even accused them of threatening him with death. Subsequently, both were arrested in May 2012 and kept in custody for 12 days.

“We had repeatedly told the police officers that it was not a national flag. They ignored it completely and charged us in an FIR as narrated by the complainant,” Mr. Sharma told The Hindu. He said the picture was someone else’s creation and shared by around 2,000 other users. “The picture was liked by 3,000 more users. None of them were arrested or charged. But we were made scapegoats, thanks to the union rivalry and political pressure,” he said.

The police remained adamant in their stand throughout. Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Himanshu Roy had even written to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology asking them to block Orkut and Facebook accounts of both leaders and the community pages on which the picture was shared. “The National Flag has been dishonoured by depicting objectionable picture/image on the background,” wrote Mr. Roy in his letter, dated April 4, 2012.

As the charge sheet filed in the case reveals, the authorities have now corrected their stand. “The flag looks like the National Flag, but in reality it is not. Hence the said Section has been removed,” said the charge sheet, which was filed on June 24, 2013, in the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate court at Mumbai.

“We had included the Section in FIR since the complainant had claimed that the National Flag was dishonoured. But after the investigations, we have decided to drop that charge,” said Sunil Ghosalkar, Investigating Officer of the case from Cyber Police Station, Crime Branch. He ruled out the possibility of a supplementary charge sheet being filed in the case.

The two have now been freshly charged under Sections 66A and 67 of the IT act and Section 506(2) of IPC (criminal intimidation).

Mr. Sharma and Mr. Jaganathrao have written 30 letters to senior police officers and other authorities. They drew attention to the illegal actions of the five policemen, from the cyber police station, who entered their houses after midnight and took them away apart from confiscating their identity cards, computers, phones and passports.

“We haven’t received any answer. One of the charges has been scrapped, but will it give us back the 12 days which we spent in the jail? I was on suspension for six months after my arrest. How the police authorities can slap charges on us, depending on complainant’s submission alone?” asked Mr. Sharma, questioning whether any action will be taken against the erring police officers.