Lucknow: The police in Uttar Pradesh's Azamgarh district on Thursday arrested a Muslim youth over his Facebook post which expressed solidarity with Palestinians in the wake of the violence in Gaza. He was also accused of allegedly appealing to people to put up the Palestinian flag on their houses and vehicles after offering the Friday namaz.
Yasir Akhtar, a native of Sarai Mir, a town located about six kms from Azamgarh district's headquarters landed in jail after he made an appeal on his Facebook page 'Azamgarh Express'. He put up a post with the Palestinian flag and asked community members to display the flag atop their houses and on their vehicles after 'Juma namaz'. However, his family said that he had intended for the post to address people in Gaza, not Azamgarh.
Sarai Mir Station House Officer (SHO), Anil Singh, said that the youth was arrested on Thursday and booked under Section 505 (2) (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). "Yasir, a resident of North Churihar Kasba in Sarai Mir area was arrested with the help of the Azamgarh surveillance cell after his post on Facebook went viral. An FIR was lodged against him at the Sarai Mir police station for provoking people to display the Palestinian flag on their houses and vehicles after Friday prayers in the district," he told Newsclick.
Criminal lawyer Abu Bakar Sabbaq explained when Section 505 (2) of the IPC could be used. “An FIR should be filed against police officials for misusing a law which was not applicable from any angle. Section 505 (2) can be used if someone's religious beliefs offend others, but how can a Facebook post on Gaza, on a tussle between Muslims and Jews, offend anyone here in Azamgarh or in India?” he said.
When Newsclick questioned Singh about what was ‘malicious’ in the post, he said: "People started abusing each other on his Facebook post and that could turn into a fight; there was the possibility of it spoiling the atmosphere. His Facebook post was with malicious intent where he made an appeal to its community members to show Palestinians flags on their houses and vehicles. Furthermore, why appeal to the people to put up the flag of another country on their homes or vehicles?" asked the SHO, adding that Yasir was released after an investigation.
Contrary to the SHO’s statement, Shahid, Yasir's brother said that Yasir missed writing "Gaza" in his Facebook post and people assumed that he had appealed to its community members in Azamgarh district. He apologised for the “mistake” too. “My brother shared a post from the Facebook page 'Azamgarh Express' and made an appeal to the people of Gaza to display their flag on houses and cars after Friday prayers since the ceasefire was declared. However, people from the area thought he asked people in Azamgarh district to display the Palestinian flag in solidarity. The police seemed in a hurry to arrest him before interrogating him,” Shahid told Newsclick.
He further said that despite that the fact that his brother apologised his mistake and put up another post with the missing place's name (Gaza), he was arrested by the police. “When my brother made it clear that his post to show the Palestinian flag was neither for those in Azamgarh nor for Indians, yet the police took him to the police station,” he claimed.
Meanwhile, Yasir’s friend Asif, a social activist based in Azamgarh, said he did not utter a single word against the country or its people and questioned how the police could arrest Yasir. “This is simply police action for a mere Facebook post and everybody knows it,” he alleged.
Sabbaq said that supporting the Palestinian cause was not a crime while the ruling Modi government itself supported Palestine's demand for freedom, asking how could a person’s Facebook post destroy communal harmony in relation to a friendly nation.