An Indian politician who posted a picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a begging bowl on Facebook has been arrested, police said on Monday, in the latest example of what critics say is a clampdown on free speech.
It follows more than a dozen similar arrests last year in a clampdown on those attacking the Hindu nationalist premier’s policies or ideology.
Sathiyaraj Balu, a member of a local pro-Tamil party, was arrested on Saturday after he posted a morphed picture of Modi with a begging bowl a day ahead of the P.M.’s visit to the southern state of Tamil Nadu. He has been charged with intent to disrupt the peace and to create ill-will between classes, after an official complaint was made by local members of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“We received a complaint against him [Balu] and took action as per the law,” said a senior police officer in the district on condition of anonymity.
Balu is being remanded in custody pending a police investigation.
A television reporter is in jail in the northeastern state of Manipur for alleged posts that also criticized Modi and the state’s chief minister Biren Singh.
Kishorechandra Wangkhem was arrested in December under a Draconian law that allows authorities to detain anyone for up to a year without trial. He had accused Singh of promoting right-wing Hindu ideology in the region and called him a “puppet” of Modi and of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a hardline Hindu group.
Police in September charged the main opposition Congress party’s social media chief Divya Spandana with sedition, after she tweeted a meme that showed an altered image of Modi’s statue with a placard emblazoned with “thief.”
Critics say such arrests are alarming in the world’s largest democracy.
“There has been a worrying crackdown on free speech and dissent in India, whether slogans, social media commentary against ruling leaders, or arrests of journalists and activists who criticize the government,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “People are being accused under range of laws including sedition and threats to national security.”