Konark tweeter arrested, gets bail
Odisha police on Thursday arrested Abhijit Iyer-Mitra in Delhi in connection with his alleged derogatory remarks about the Konark Sun Temple. However, a Delhi court later granted him bail.
The arrest happened on a day the Odisha Assembly formed a six-member committee to take up the privilege motion against him.
The committee, which is headed by leader of the Opposition Narasingha Mishra, will submit its report to the Assembly on the first day of the next session of the House.
Odisha police picked up Iyer-Mitra earlier on Thursday in Delhi and took him to the Nizamuddin police station for interrogation. He was later taken to Saket court where he was granted bail on a surety of Rs 1 lakh and the court directed him to join investigation in Odisha by September 28.
On the basis of resident Bimbadhar Beura’s complaint a case had been registered against Iyer-Mitra at Konark police station in Puri district on Tuesday.
Subsequently, police had registered a case under section 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups on the ground of religion, grace, place of birth, residence, language etc) and 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) and 298 (uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person) of the Indian Penal Code and section 66 of IT Act.
“I have no reason to disbelieve that the accused will not join the investigation of this case at Odisha with the investigating officer. Hence the application moved by the IO seeking transit remand stands dismissed and disposed of and the accused Abhijit Iyer-Mitra is admitted to bail on furnishing personal bond of Rs one lakh with directions to appear before the IO at the concerned police station latest by 28.09.2018,” chief metropolitan magistrate Manish Khurana said in his order.
The magistrate rejected Odisha police’s request for transit remand saying the accused was served with the notice under section 160 of the CrPC to appear at Sadarpur police station, Odisha, and not at Nizamuddin police station.
In its petition to the court, Rajeev Mohan, counsel for Odisha government, said the accused had taken photograph of the Konark Sun Temple and tweeted against the Odias on September 15.
In Bilal Ahmed Kalu vs state of Andhra Pradesh (1997), the Supreme Court held that mens rea (mental intention) is a necessary ingredient for offence under Sections 153A IPC. The arrest, however, has triggered outrage in the social media.
“This is appalling. The archaic colonial laws that allow such arrests must be struck down. The Odisha Government must rise above such pettiness. The right to offend is fundamental to democracy,” historian Ramchandra Guha tweeted.
The controversy echoed in the House on Thursday with the suspension of question hour to discuss the privilege issue. The House was adjourned for nearly one hour to facilitate an all-party meeting in the Speaker’s chamber to discuss the matter.
During the debate, MLAs cutting across party lines demanded stringent action against Iyer-Mitra. Taking exception to his remarks in an interview to a TV channel that the “MLAs of Odisha are fools,” Mishra said: “It means that we have no privilege in the House to raise question against anybody. Nobody can put pressure on MLAs to restrain them from making any comments unless it concerns the judiciary. Nobody has the right to call us fools.” Mishra said referring to Iyer-Mitra's tweets on Odisha, Konark and the Jagannath temple.
Mishra said: “He should be summoned and the House should decide on the quantum of punishment.”
BJP leader K.V. Singh Deo said: “The House is united on this issue. No one has the right to make any derogatory comments.”
Law minister Pratap Jena and three BJD MLAs — Pramila Mallick, Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak and Arun Sahoo — echoed similar views. Jena and Nayak also demanded action against former MP Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda for facilitating Iyer-Mitra's visit to Odisha.
On Thursday, another case was registered against Iyer-Mitra at the Saheed Nagar police station in Bhubaneswar on the basis of a complaint filed by Manoranjan Swain, a law student. Besides, a case was also lodged against Iyer-Mitra in the court of the SDJM, Bhubaneswar.