India: Blogger Arrested Over ‘Blasphemy Against Islam’ on Facebook

In the early hours of September 15, 2016, prominent atheist blogger and ‘freethinker’ Tarak Biswas was arrested at his home in West Bengal over a Facebook post which was considered critical of Islam.

Mere minutes after his post was made, a First Information Report (or FIR) was filed by local Trinamool Congress leader Sanaullah Khan, demanding that the Howrah Police Commissionerate take action against Biswas.

Biswas’s arrest and subsequent 21-day detention by the courts was ordered as he was charged with violating Section 295A and 298 of the Indian Penal Code – alongside Sections 66, 67 and 67A of the Information and Techonology Act. Between them, these laws amount to an arrest based on ‘hurting religious feelings and posting offensive messages online’. It was reported that at Biswas’s arraignment on September 17, he did not have any legal representation.

Biswas has previously self-identified as a follower of the Mukto-Mona school of philosophy, and has always been outspoken about his atheism. Mukto-Mona has been a target of Islamists in the past.

Biswas’s brother, when speaking to the press, asked:

“Tarak is an atheist. He has his own belief. He has routinely criticised all religions. Why should a post on Islam – which was mostly a repost, and not original – be considered so offensive?”

Biswas was granted bail in Calcutta on the 5th of October, but he has now been transferred to Tamluk jail. Two more cases have been brought before him in Howrah and Tamluk, and until these move forward, Biswas will remain in detention.

Freedom House has marked India In its Freedom of the Net report for the year 2015 as ‘Partially Free’. Although many positive developments have been noted, such as the removal of Section 66A of the IT Act in March of 2015  through the courts, the government continues to try and create a ‘Central Monitoring System’. This monitoring system would allow the Indian government to create a mass surveillance network to monitor all online digital communications.

Despite the removal of Section 66A, no less than 5,102 arrests or summons were made under the act in 2015. Among them, the filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma, who was summoned to court in June, in part under 66A, for remarks posted to Twitter in 2014.

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