NEW DELHI (AP) — As India's financial capital shut down for the weekend funeral of a powerful politician linked to waves of mob violence, a woman posted on Facebook that the closures in Mumbai were "due to fear, not due to respect." A friend of hers hit the "like" button.
For that, both women were arrested.
Analysts and the media are slamming the Maharashtra state government for what they said was a flagrant misuse of the law and an attempt to curb freedom of expression. The arrests were seen as a move by police to prevent any outbreak of violence by supporters of Bal Thackeray, a powerful Hindu fundamentalist politician who died Saturday.
"We are living in a democracy, not a fascist dictatorship," Markandey Katju, a former Supreme Court justice who now heads the Press Council of India, wrote in a protest letter to the chief minister of Maharashtra.
Katju demanded that the state government suspend the police officers who had ordered the arrests and prosecute them.
The women withdrew the comment and apologized, but angry Thackeray supporters ransacked an orthopedic clinic run by the uncle of one woman.
A lawyer representing the women, Sudheer Gupta, said police arrested them Sunday, the day of the funeral, on charges of creating enmity and hatred. They were released on bail Monday.
Shaheen Dhada, the 21-year-old who posted the comment appeared on television Tuesday, her face covered by a scarf so that only her eyes were visible.
Clearly terrified by her arrest and the attack on her uncle's clinic, Dhada told NDTV television she would never again make comments on a social networking site. Both women said they have deactivated their Facebook accounts.
Dhada described her arrest as "unfair."
"It was not a crime," Renu Srinivas, Dhada's friend who also was arrested, told NDTV.
India's Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal said he was "deeply saddened" by the arrests of the two women.
"Freedom of speech is a very important right, and we need to protect it," Sibal told reporters. He said the government would re-examine the laws governing information technology to prevent its misuse by the police.
"We want to make sure that this law is not meant to prevent people from stating their point of view on any issue," Sibal said Tuesday.