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India Facebook Arrests In Palghar Over Posts Raise Free Speech Concerns (VIDEO, TWEETS)

11/28/2012 01:02 pm ET | Updated Nov 28, 2012

A little more than a week after two women were arrested in India over a Facebook post that criticized the shutdown of Mumbai in the wake of politician Bal Thackeray's death, a young man has allegedly been detained for a Facebook comment about Thackeray's nephew, Raj.

According to the Times of India, Sunil Vishwakarma, a student said to be in his late teens or early 20s, was taken into custody in Palghar in the state of Maharashtra, after an "abusive" comment was posted on his Facebook account about the younger Thackeray, who is the leader of the political party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.

It is unclear as to the post's content, but MNS party workers claim that the comments were "vulgar," according to The Hindu.

Vishwakarma has allegedly denied posting the comment.

The police [have] not charged the teen yet; [they are] reportedly trying to ascertain whether he wrote the post or if his account was hacked.

"We are questioning him as we do not want to repeat the same mistakes committed a few days ago," an officer at Palghar police station told PTI, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The police are reportedly being cautious in their handling of the present case due to the backlash they received over the arrest of two women earlier this month, also in Palghar. A 21-year-old woman was arrested over comments she made on her Facebook account that criticized the shutdown of the city of Mumbai following the death of Bal Thackeray, a controversial and prominent politician who founded the political party Shiv Sena. A friend who had "liked" the comment was also arrested.

As The Hindu notes, two Palghar policemen have been suspended after nationwide outrage prompted an inquiry into those arrests. The charges against the two young women have yet to be dropped, however.

A Shiv Sena-sponsored bandh (or shutdown) of Palghar reportedly took place on Wednesday in support of the suspended cops.

In a blog post for Reuters, Shilpa Jamkhandikar wrote:

Shutting down cities seems to be the Shiv Sena’s new pastime. A week after forcing a shutdown in Mumbai to mourn the death of its leader Bal Thackeray, the right-wing party set its sights on Palghar, a sleepy town 90 kilometres north of Mumbai that finds itself at the centre of a debate on freedom of speech...

For the Shiv Sena, this is a show of strength and a ploy to gain political mileage. The motive might be local, but the implications are national. A bizarre interpretation of India's internet laws sent two 21-year-old Facebook friends to prison and raised questions of how serious the government is about allowing the freedom of speech, online or otherwise.

Jamkhandikar is not alone in her sentiments.

As the Facebook row in Palghar continues, India's netizens have come out in "tremendous" support for the two detained women and have called for India's officials to prove their commitment to free speech, the Hindustan Times reports.

"This isn’t a comedy of errors; rather this is a tragedy of disasters," London-based journalist Salil Tripathi, commenting on the Facebook crackdowns, wrote for Live Mint on Wednesday.

Others have taken to Twitter and Facebook to express their outrage:

"After this happened I don't think India is a democratic nation," Renu Srinivasan, one of the women arrested, recently told the BBC.

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