India: Sedition case for “anti-India” Facebook posts must be dropped

The arrest of a Kashmiri man for ‘sedition’ for sharing ‘anti-India’ posts on Facebook is an absurd use of an archaic law to curb freedom of expression, Amnesty International India said today.

On 4 August, the Chhattisgarh police arrested Tausiq Ahmed from a railway station in Madhya Pradesh, based on a complaint lodged in Durg, Chhattisgarh.

The Superintendent of Police, Durg, said that a First Information Report (FIR) had been registered against Tausiq Ahmed under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which defines sedition as any act or attempt “to bring into hatred or contempt, or…excite disaffection towards the government.”

The Superintendent told Amnesty International India, “His wall was filled with anti-India messages questioning the integrity of the country and insulting the national flag.”

The complainant who filed the FIR told Amnesty International India, “Many youth from our town approached us about Tausiq’s multiple posts, including one that said, ‘Get out from Kashmir’, and one in which he depicted India’s flag as a rat. It was a question of security and that’s why I think criminal investigation is necessary.” The complainant said that he was a member of a Hindu nationalist organization which is linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

“The right to freedom of expression extends to speech that may be considered offensive by some,” said Arijit Sen, Programmes Manager at Amnesty International India. “A criminal case for such conduct is not justified.”

Indian courts have ruled that expression can be restricted on grounds of public order only when it involves incitement to imminent violence or disorder. In 2015, India’s Supreme Court struck down section 66A of the Information Technology Act, a provision which placed vague and overbroad restrictions on online expression, observing: ‘Mere discussion or even advocacy of a particular cause howsoever unpopular is at the heart of [the right to freedom of expression]”. The Court stated that such advocacy could be restricted only when it “reaches the level of incitement”.

“Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, the sedition law continues to be used to criminalize free speech. The Chhattisgarh government must immediately release Tausiq Ahmed and drop all charges against him, and take steps to repeal section 124A,” said Arijit Sen.