Midnight raid and Arrest at Air India employees’ house after Facebook comment: Report

A television channel reports that the cyber cell of Mumbai police arrested two cabin crew members –  Mayank Mohan Sharma and KVJ Rao of Air India in May this year for allegedly sharing  lewd jokes about politicians, making derogatory comments against the Prime Minister and insulting the national flag through their Facebook posts.

According to an NDTV report, police registered a case in March against the duo and arrested the them under the controversial section 66(A) and 67 of the Information Technology Act in May after raiding their house post midnight. Following the arrest, Sharma and Rao spent 12 days in police custody and were suspended by Air India.

Rao and Sharma were quoted as saying that they had shared content easily available on the Internet and the former alleged that the police acted under political pressure from NCP politician Kiran Pawaskar.

The incident which came to light recently, once again raises questions on freedom of expression in India. Just a week back a classical example of political intolerance and Internet censorship played out in the country. The Mumbai police arrested two girls for protesting against a statewide Bandh on their Facebook wall. The girls were arrested after one of them posted a message on Facebook following Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray’s death. The other girl had liked the post.

Soon, workers allegedly belonging the the Shiv Sena also attacked the girls’ residence. The arrest of two girls had been widely condemned by Internet activists. The  Press council Chairman Justice Katju reacted strongly to the incident. He instructed Chief Minister of Maharashtra to initiate criminal proceedings against the police personnel who allegedly arrested a woman in Mumbai for posting a message on Facebook against a state wide bandh.

The appetite of the ruling class or the people in power to control web can be gauged from Google’s sixth transparency report released earlier this month. The report ranked India to #2 position in terms of  government requests to remove/block content. From January to June 2012, Indian government made a total of 2,319 user data requests and 3,467 user account requests and Google complied with 64% of data requests.

A report released by Washington based Internet monitoring group Freedom House, has ranked India (rank- 39) in Internet freedom, down by two places from last year (37). The study conducted by the group covers Internet centric freedom spanning across 47 countries.

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