New Delhi: Five years after a man from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh posted a morphed photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Facebook, he was arrested by the police and charged with sedition on Thursday.
This is not the first case where a person has been arrested under the sedition law in Uttar Pradesh. Ever since the Adityanath-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power in UP in March 2017, at least 150 cases of sedition have been reported across the state and half-a-dozen persons arrested in Saharanpur, Meerut, Gautam Buddh Nagar, Varanasi, Pratapgarh, Ballia, Bahraich, Basti and Ghaziabad.
In most of these cases, the ‘crime’ is the same — sharing “offensive’, “objectionable”, "inflammatory" and “defamatory” content on social media, including criticisim of late prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, or ridiculing Modi, Adityanath or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat.
According to media reports, Faham Azim Siddiqui, a native of Incholi village of Meerut district, was arrested on Thursday under the Information Technology Act, 2000 and Section 124 A (sedition) of Indian Penal Code (IPC). He was arrested on the basis of a complaint filed by one Pankaj Bhardwaj who alleged that a morphed picture of PM Modi was shared on social media.
"Police have arrested a man for sharing objectionable posts on PM Modi. The accused had shared objectionable posts on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has been sent to jail under the IT Act. He also has a criminal record. A case against the individual has been registered under the IT Act and IPC Section 124 A, which includes activities against the government. But we can only take action under 124 A after due approval from the government," Meerut Superintendent of Police (Rural) Avinash Pandey was quoted as saying by local media.
Meanwhile, Muhammad Albab, a relative of Siddiqui's, rubbished the police allegations. He told Newsclick, "Faham has not shared anything objectionable against PM Modi in recent times. It is an old case of 2014. He had shared a picture of Modi with objectionable content on Facebook in 2014 but Meerut police arrested him on Thursday after five years,” alleging that Siddiqui was arrested due to “huge pressure” on police by few local BJP leaders.
On the UP police’s claim that Siddiqui also had a criminal background, Albab said: "Ten years ago, he had some fight with his neighbours and he shot a person with his father's gun, but that matter was sorted out few years later. He was arrested for his alleged inflammatory Facebook post which he did not share since 2014."
Earlier, a 19-year-old youth in Shahjahanpur district was slapped with sedition charges, arrested and sent to jail for allegedly posting ‘anti-national content’ on his Facebook wall. In a similar case, at least 14 students of Aligarh Muslim University were charged with sedition after some students and a TV channel crew had an altercation over reports of a visit by AIMIM lawmaker Asaduddin Owaisi.
Brijesh Yadav, who hails from Ballia district, and was booked under the sedition law last year, told Newsclick, "I was booked under sedition for sharing a picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after 52 days of demonetisation. Modi had said during demonetisation he will give us India of our dreams and if someone faces problems due to demonetisation, he can choose a “chauraha” (crossroad) where people can punish him for triggering a chaotic situation in the country. After 52 days of distress due to notebandi, leaving over a hundred people dead, I shared a picture of Modi, questioning him about his promise. I was booked under sedition law. When the Adityanath government came to power, the case was re-opened on May 27, 2018, and I was arrested and sent to jail for 22 days."
He said "the matter is sub-judice and I am out on bail, but every month I visit the local court for hearing, which is painful for me.” He added that the judge had told that sedition law was no, applicable in this case and indicated that the case would soon be withdrawn. But the ruling BJP is harassing me despite the then District Magistrate of Ballia assuring me that no case of sedition will me made against me."
Kalam, a native of Kunda Tehisl of Pratapgarh district, was also booked under sedition. He told Newsclick, "I was booked under the sedition law for a Facebook post in which I had expressed my disagreement over the Adityanath government renaming the Mughalsarai railway station to Deen Dayal Upadhyay. I questioned Upadhyay’s contribution towards the nation. One month after the post, I was arrested by the police despite the fact that the case was sorted out by the then SHO, and was sent to the jail for 14 days.” He said the irony was that the complaint was filed by someone who is not even from my district but is from Jaunpur.
POLITICAL USE OF LAW
This is not the first time the sedition law is being invoked against social media posts, even though the Supreme Court has stated that this amounts to misuse of the law.
Many experts and lawyers believe that sedition cases, especially against minorities, are being used as political tool and weapon to threaten anyone who speaks his/her mind or questions the government.
Newsclick approached lawyer Amit Shrivastava to understand why such a draconian was being used. He said: "Sedition was introduced by the British colonial rulers and was meant to suppress the voice of the Indian people. Since Independence, every government is using this draconian law for its political benefit. In several cases of sedition, the police do not have enough evidence. Yet people are being sent to jail just because they criticised the Adityanath government and its policies on social media platforms."
Earlier, Newsclick had reported that the UP police had slapped sedition cases on some Muslim youth who aired their criticism of former Vajpayee's alleged role in the Babri Masjid demolition.
Zakir Ali Tyagi, who hails from Muzaffarnagar, was also booked under the sedition law and sent to jail for 40 days over a social media post against Adityanath. "I was arrested on April 2, 2017 from my home. My crime was that I raised my voice against the government and for this I spent more than 42 days in prison on charges of sedition, cheating (420 IPC) and Section 66 of the IT Act. The case is still pending in court and charges are yet to be framed," he told Newsclick.
Incidentally, the Narendra Modi-led central government, which is on a spree to do away with archaic laws, has clarified its stand on the sedition law asserting that there was no proposal to scrap this contentious British-era law.