Criticise Nitish Kumar govt on social media, land in jail
Criticising the state government, ministers, MLAs, MPs or officials on social media can now cause people to be arrested in Bihar, courtesy a recent executive decision.
Nitish Kumar’s administration has brought under the ambit of cyber crime “objectionable comments” by individuals or organisations against the government and its functionaries and lawmakers, provoking Opposition charges of curbing free speech.
The move comes six years after the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the IT Act, which criminalised “offensive” online comments, on the ground that it violated the constitutional right to free expression.
On Thursday, the economic offences unit (EOU) of Bihar police, which is also the nodal agency to tackle cyber crime, asked senior government officials to provide detailed information if they come across “objectionable comments made by undesirable persons or organisations against the Bihar government on the social media or the Internet, so that effective action could be taken against them as per the law”.
“Such information are continuously coming to light that some persons or organisations are making objectionable or indecent and misleading comments against the government, honourable ministers, MPs, MLAs and government officers,” says the letter from EOU additional director-general Nayyar Hasnain Khan to principal secretaries and secretaries.
“This is against the law and comes in the category of cyber crime. It seems appropriate to take action against such people and groups in accordance with the law.”
Khan told The Telegraph the move had become necessary because of the increasing “misuse” of the social media.
Asked who would decide whether a remark was objectionable or indecent, Khan said: “There are clear-cut provisions in the IT Act about social media abuse. We will also use the Indian Penal Code sections. The EOU will investigate the complaints on the basis of these laws. The complaints will be routed through the departmental heads (principal secretaries or secretaries).”
The EOU comes under the home department, currently held by Nitish. The chief minister has been facing criticism from the public over the worsening law and order.
Apart from protesting the threat to freedom of expression, Opposition leaders have expressed concern that a police force widely seen as biased and corrupt would now investigate netizens complaining against the government, lawmakers or officials.
“Nitish Kumar is walking in the footsteps of Hitler. He is a creator of 60 scams, the patron of infamous criminals and a weak head of an unethical and illegal government,” RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav said on Friday.
“The Bihar police sell liquor, protect criminals and implicate the innocent. I challenge the chief minister to arrest me under his latest order.”
Congress MLC Prem Chandra Mishra said the EOU letter had shown up “a government that is afraid of criticism and is worried over its failures”.
“Critics will be jailed and the police, who cannot catch criminals, will be misused. We don’t support indecent comments but 90 per cent of BJP leaders and many JDU leaders will have to be imprisoned for making derogatory remarks if proper action is taken.”
Deputy chief minister and BJP leader Tarkishore Prasad defended the government move.
“Many negative things are being circulated on social media that are wholly unconnected with reality. We must curb them,” he said.