Authorities in Madhya Pradesh must drop charges against and immediately release two men arrested for allegedly sharing a satirical image of the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
"Arresting people simply because they mocked public figures is an absurd overreaction by the authorities,” said Abhirr VP, Campaigner at Amnesty International India.
On 17 March, 22-year-old Shaqir Yunus and 21-year-old college student Wasim Sheikh from Khargone, Madhya Pradesh were arrested for allegedly sharing the satirical image on Whatsapp and Facebook, following complaints that the men had hurt the feelings of the Hindu community. The digitally altered image made fun of the RSS’s recent decision to change its uniform from khaki shorts to brown trousers.
The men were arrested under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act for "publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form" and Section 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code for "promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes". A local court has remanded them in judicial custody for two weeks. If convicted, they could face imprisonment for up to five years.
“Last year, the Supreme Court struck down section 66A of the Information Technology Act for violating the constitutional right to freedom of expression. It is disappointing to see the Madhya Pradesh police continuing to abuse the Act,” said Abhirr VP.
Under international human rights law and standards, protecting the rights of others from advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to hostility, discrimination or violence justifies some restrictions on the right to freedom of expression. However, advocacy of hatred requires a clear showing of intent to urge others to discriminate, be hostile toward, or commit violence against the group in question. There must be a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the resulting risk of discrimination, hostility or violence.