Experts pick holes in charges against Mehdi

BENGALURU: City police seem to have added one too many sections in the FIR against Mehdi Masroor Biswas, owner of pro-Isis Twitter handle @ShamiWitness.

While they seem to have some justification in invoking Section 125 of the IPC and Sections 18 and 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the inclusion of Section 66F of the IT Act seems contradictory to even their statements.

In case of Section 125, he has been charged with supporting a cause that threatens the sovereignty of Syria, a peaceful ally of India, and the section’s scope allows that charge. The scope of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is also not retricted to India, so experts say charges under that section too are appropriate.

The charge that doesn’t seem to fit is Section 66F if the IT Act. Bengaluru Police, at the press conference announcing Mehdi’s arrest on Saturday, categorically said his acts on Twitter did not directly threaten the security or sovereignty of India.

However, Section 66F, which deals with cyber terrorism, reads that those who “with intent to threaten the unity, integrity, security or sovereignty of India or to strike terror in the people or any section of the people”, are punishable.

Even if he was thought to be a threat to India, experts point out that the cops will need to clearly prove beyond doubt, a link between the “word and deed”.

Deciphering the section based on existing judgments, Alternative Law Forum co-founder Lawrence Liang says: “It’s important that the interpretation of the Act is closer to what courts say and not what police do in day-to-day functioning. The court, as proved in the Kedarnath andRam Manohar Lohia cases, is clear that mere subscription or support for an ideology or belief doesn’t constitute sedation. A strong nexus between what has been said by such people and the consequences, if any, need to be proved.”

Published in Times of India on  Dec 15, 2014