36-year-old Muslim man was arrested at Chennai airport after his friend, who was en route from Dubai, was found to have exceeded gold carrying baggage allowance,“booked on sedition charges for a random Whatsapp audio message

36-year-old Muslim man was arrested at Chennai airport after his friend, who was en route from Dubai, was found to have exceeded gold carrying baggage allowance,“booked on sedition charges for a random Whatsapp audio message

Chennai,July21:According to a report in the Indian Express, 36-year-old Tadikala Akbar Saleem was arrested at Chennai airport on July 15, after his friend, who was en route from Dubai, was found to have exceeded gold carrying baggage allowance. Saleem, from Kadappa, Andhra Pradesh, was “booked on sedition charges for a random audio message he had received on WhatsApp, which was deemed antinational”, according to the report.

The report states:

“The sedition case was registered by Chennai airport police after the man — Tadikala Akbar Saleem — was taken into custody by the air intelligence unit of the Customs department, which is under the Union home ministry. The incident took place on Saturday, and air intelligence is learnt to have referred the case to Chennai airport police on Sunday, with a warning that it carried ‘anti-national’ content. An FIR was registered and Saleem was produced before the magistrate on Monday, an inspector from airport police station said.”

Saleem was taken into custody by the air intelligence unit of the customs department, that comes under the Union ministry of home affairs. Now why was Saleem’s phone searched at all? It was a “routine” affair because it was suspected that having a Muslim friend hailing from Dubai and having a Muslim name himself warranted such invasive actions. A “smuggling ring” was suspected and in a country where gold is hoarded, is obsessed over, where the government itself has put a minor GST of mere three per cent on gold, that connection itself becomes a reason for the encroachment into someone’s privacy, as signified by his phone and its contents.

antinational_072017050803.jpgPhoto: DailyO

Abysmally enough, the humiliation doesn’t stop at Saleem’s phone being searched. The contents of his WhatsApp – particularly the picture of a woman stomping the Quran, and an audio message asking Muslims to congregate at Delhi’s Jama Masjid to protest the denigration of the Holy Book – become searched items. Then, it’s the latter that is “deemed antinational” even though there is no date and time designated for such a gathering, there’s no violence attached to the message, and there’s practically no forwarding contact given as part of the audio message.

How’s it Saleem’s fault if he has received the message? How can we stop others from sending us messages, unless we block them? How are we to block our friends, they their friends? How’s it possible to verify every fake or innocuous message before receiving them? Why is this being conflated with those maliciously creating, generating and circulating fake news with the intention of riling up communal harmony, of upsetting the country’s delicately secular fabric?

There in lies legal nuance.  A broadstroke and utterly misusable law, draconian in its colonial origin, Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, or sedition, is prone to being used by the majoritarian authorities to unleash terror on vulnerable people from the minority communities. This is exactly what happened in the case of Akbar Saleem.

The alleged “anti-national” audio message was about Muslims being called for a show of strength at Jantar Mantar. It apparently was made in the name of “Maulana  (Syed) Asad Madani” of Jamiat Uleme-e-Hind, an Islamic body from Malaysia.

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