Facebook Row: Barack Obama encourages, India arrests users

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Bangalore, Nov 29: At a time when young and net-savvy citizens of India are getting arrested for speaking their minds on social networking sites, US President Barack Obama has urged Americans to use social media to influence politicians in taking economic decisions.

Shaheen Dhada

"If there's one thing that I've learned, when the American people speak loudly enough, lo and behold, Congress listens," Obama said on Wednesday, Nov 28 at the White House.

Obama wants Americans to use Facebook, Twitter and email to put pressure on Congress in his efforts to keep tax breaks for most Americans while raising taxes on the wealthiest 2 per cent.

But, in India, a sense of fear exists among netizens. They fear that if they say anything on social-media regarding politicians or influential people, they might be arrested.

Recently, two Palghar-based girls were arrested for their Facebook comment on Mumbai bandh following the death of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray. Shaheen Dhada had posted a comment on Facebook questioning Mumbai's shutdown on Bal Thackeray's funeral and her friend Rinu Shrinivasan had liked it. Hence, the duo were arrested by cops and later released on bail.

"People like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a bandh for that," Dhada had reportedly written on her Facebook wall. Dhada's friend Rinu "liked" her comment and landed in the legal trouble. The duo were reportedly booked under Section 295(a) of the IPC (for hurting religious sentiments) and Section 64(a) of the Information Technology Act, 2000. They were later granted bail on surety of Rs 15,000 each. Shaheen, it was said, had withdrawn her comment and apologised before the vandalism took place

On Wednesday, Sunil Vishwakarma, the 19-year-old boy from Palghar at Thane district in Maharashtra was detained on suspicion of posting an "objectionable" Facebook comment against MNS chief Raj Thackeray. However, he was let off after police found that a "fake account" was used by some persons in the teenager's name.

As the controversy over freedom of expression in the social media has hogged the limelight, sources say officials are going to meet in New Delhi on Thursday to review controversial sections of the Information Technology Act.

"The Cyber Regulation Advisory Committee will be in a huddle to consider if section 66A of the Act is too draconian in the age of social media," said an official.

Section 66A treats sending information through a computer or communication device as having committed an offence if the material is "grossly offensive, has menacing character, is sent to cause annoyance, insult and enmity or for criminal intimidation".

Moreover, an online petition aimed at amending section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act and re-examining internet laws has garnered 3,000 signatures in two days time.

The petition, a brain-child of Change.org, a platform for social initiatives, was started by Bangalore-based advocate Gautam John after two girls from Palghar were arrested for their Facebook post on imposing a bandh in the city on the day Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray was cremated.

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