India commission rules for two women jailed for Facebook use

India’s National Human Rights Commission says that two young woman jailed in 2012 over a Facebook post deserve compensation after local police violated their rights under India’s constitution.

FacebookThe arrests of Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan in November 2012 became an international story after the women were detained by police in the town of Palghar for a Facebook post, a Facebook “like” and a Facebook comment in reference to a local political leader who had died.

Dhada, then 21, posted on Facebook about the funeral ceremony for Bal Thackeray, a Mumbai pro-Hindu political leader. Thackeray’s supporters had called for a bandh, a form of massive protest that brought much of the city to a standstill.

“Every day thousands of people die, but still the world moves on. … Today, Mumbai shuts down out of fear, not out of respect,” Dhada wrote on her Facebook page. Srinivasan then liked Dhada’s post and added her own comment.

“Everyone know[s] it’s done because of fear!!! We agree that he has done a lot of good things. also we respect him, it doesn’t make sense to shut down everything! Respect can be shown in many other ways,” she said.

After receiving a phone call criticizing the Facebook message, Dhada deleted the post. But soon, a mob attacked a medical clinic owned by her uncle. Dhada and Srinivasan then found themselves at a local police station, where they issued a written apology.

At the time, Srinivasan told the BBC she was confronted by an angry mob and slapped by two women at the police station.

The women were kept overnight by police and then arrested the following day for violating an Indian law about online conduct. Dhada, who is Muslim, and Srinivasan were charged under the Indian Penal code for “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”

After their release, Dhada and Srinivasan received police protection at home as they spoke with reporters about their experiences. Eventually, the charges against them were dropped, and three police officials received sanctions.

On Tuesday, India’s National Human Rights Commission said Dhada and Srinivasan’s detention “was in violation of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in the Constitution.” The commission ordered Maharashtra state to provide compensation, or to show cause for why it shouldn’t pay monetary relief.

“The comment only indicated that the bandh was not necessary as a mark of respect to the departed leader and that the city was shut down due to fear and not due to respect,” the NHRC said. “Because of the over-reaction of the police, these two young women had to be in jail for more than 10 days for which the state is prima facie responsible.”

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