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For 22-year-old Haroon, criticising the UP government’s policies was a cherished pastime. It was Haroon’s way of staying connected to his hometown, Bahraich, while he worked in Dubai.
“I sometimes wrote against BJP’s policies. I don’t hate any BJP politician in particular,” says Haroon, who was arrested by the UP Police in November 2018 for a comment he wrote on Facebook.
Some days before the Kumbh Mela was to take place in Prayagraj, UP CM Yogi Adityanath visited the city to take stock of the celebration’s preparations. Rana Sultan Javed, a friend of Haroon, took a dig at Yogi Adityanath by sharing a photo of the CM holding a green flag in front of a nagar nigam (municipal corporation) truck. The post got 53 likes and was soon embroiled in a political controversy.
Deactivated FB Account After Online Backlash
When Haroon returned to India, he was informed that an FIR had been filed against him. He had commented on the post which ‘ridiculed’ Yogi Adityanath.
“Many UP police personnel came to my house and took me away without a search warrant or the necessary paperwork... Once we reached the police station, the personnel began abusing me.”Haroon Khan, resident, Bahraich
Haroon got bail within a week but became a target for online backlash. Whatever he posted on his account was met with vitriol. Fearful of more reprisals, especially at a time when social media was abuzz with speculation about who would become India’s prime minister in the 2019 elections, Haroon decided to delete his Facebook account.
FIR Invokes an Unconstitutional IPC Section
The Supreme Court’s decision of ordering journalist Prashant Kanojia to be released has focused the lens on social media enthusiasts such as Haroon, who have received much censure at the hands of the UP Police since the BJP came to power in March 2017.
Zakir Ali Tyagi, a resident of Muzaffarnagar, had a hard time after being arrested in April 2017 for writing a post about the criminal cases that have been filed against the UP chief minister. Zakir was forced to spend over 40 days in jail after being charged with Section 66A of the IT Act (sending offensive messages online), Section 420 (cheating) and Section 124A (sedition).
The police invoked Section 66A in Zakir’s case which was termed “unconstitutional” and struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015. The legal battle plagues Zakir and his family, especially financially.
“Money I should be spending on books and stationery, I have to spend on my lawyer and court proceedings.”Zakir Ali Tyagi, Resident, Muzaffarnagar
Criticism Of the Taj Mahal’s Ticket Price Proved Costly
Suboor Ali, a Congress worker based out of Firozabad, questioned the UP government’s decision of increasing the Taj Mahal’s ticket prices from Rs 50 to Rs 250. Little did he know his criticism would land him at the centre of political furore.
The local police filed an FIR against Ali for ‘promoting enmity’, ‘circulating statements with ill-intent’ and ‘causing damage to computer system’. Suboor also alleges that he was threatened for speaking against the ruling party.
“The intelligence bureau called and asked me why I had raised my voice against the ruling government when I knew Yogi is running the UP government and the BJP is in power at the Centre too.”Suboor Ali, resident, Firozabad
Zakir, Haroon and Suboor continue to be tried in court. Will SC’s judgment in the Prashant Kanojia case bring much-needed relief to them?
They may have chosen to keep a low-profile on social media for the time being but didn’t the UP Police infringe on their right to liberty as well?
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