In continuation of the ruling party’s reportedly increasing curbs on freedom of expression, a writer from Assam was arrested on April 6, on charges of sedition over a Facebook post that allegedly caused disrespect to martyrs.
The arrested writer, Sikha Sharma is based in Guwahati and has been a vocal critic of the state government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
On April 5, the writer had put up a post on Facebook in Assamese that roughly translates to, “Salaried professionals who die in the line of duty cannot be termed martyrs. Going by that logic, electricity department workers who die of electrocution should also be labelled martyrs. Do not make people sentiment, media.”
The post alluded to the 22 jawans killed in an encounter with Maoists in Chhattisgarh on April 3, The Indian Express reported, quoting Guwahati Police Commissioner Munna Prasad Gupta. Notably, two of the security personnel who lost their lives were from Assam.
Following the post, advocates Umi Deka Baruah and Kangkana Goswami had lodged an FIR at the Dispur Police Station on April 6 alleging that the post was “distasteful”. The complainants wrote, “This is in utter disrepute to the honour of our soldiers and such distasteful remarks not only reduce the unparalleled sacrifice of our jawans to a mere ‘money making discourse’, but is also verbal assault on the spirit and sanctity of service of the nation.”
The FIR further added that the post “maligned and disregarded the sacrifice of our martyrs by urging the media not to generate public sentiments in their favour and not to treat them as swahids as they are drawing salary for the services they are providing to the nation”, while demanding “stern action” against the writer.
As per the police, the 48-year-old writer, who was picked up from her residence at around 7 PM, has been booked under penal code sections dealing with sedition, using obscene words, defamation and intimidation, and Section 45 of the Information Technology Act.
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The post had also triggered a controversy online, drawing huge flak on social media platforms. The Indian Express reported that amid the massive backlash, the writer had questioned, “Isn’t misrepresenting my post mental harassment? “Will the false propaganda against me come under rule of law?”
Before getting arrested, the writer reportedly told the media that, “Proper discussions and deliberations have to be conducted to actually determine what I meant by that statement.” She had added, “To figure it out, one must first ask, what is the true meaning of the word ‘martyr’?”
According to her Facebook profile, Sikha Sharma is working for All India Radio, Dibrugarh.
Earlier in October 2020, the writer had allegedly faced rape threats for an anti-government post she had put up on social media, according to the Indian Express report.
Also read: Sedition: Criminalising Dissent