A district sessions court here Friday rejected the bail application of a Muslim youth, who was arrested because he did not stand up during the national anthem in a movie theatre.
M Salman, 25, was charged under section 124 A of the IPC (sedition) for allegedly “sitting and hooting” when the national anthem was being played at a movie theatre. He also faces charges under section 66 A of the IT Act for allegedly posting a derogatory comment about the national flag on Facebook. He has been in jail for more than two weeks.
Rejecting his bail application, the court said Salman’s behaviour was anti-national and his offence more serious than murder, his lawyer claimed. Meanwhile, rights activists have criticised the slapping of sedition charges on Salman.
Apart from Salman, five others, including two women, are facing sedition charges in the case. One of them got anticipatory bail, while the others have reportedly gone into hiding.
The group had gone to a government-owned theatre in Thiruvananthapuram to watch a movie on August 18. It is a practice in state-owned theatres to play the national anthem before every show, and the audience is asked to stand up.
Salman and his friends — some students and others professionals — did not stand up, which led to protests from a section of the audience.
Harihara Sharma, who got anticipatory bail, said, “A few persons questioned our reluctance to stand up. They asked us to go to Pakistan if we can’t stand up for the national anthem. They also got into an altercation with us after the national anthem was over. Provoked by such comments, we raised a hue and cry.”
Sharma said that they have watched movies at the same theatre in the past as well. “Even then, we would not stand up when the national anthem was played,” he said.
Following the incident, two people from the audience, who knew the people in the group, complained to the police.
Meanwhile, Salman also came under the scanner for allegedly making derogatory comments about the national flag and parodying a patriotic song on Facebook.
On August 20, police arrested Salman from his house late in the night and went after the five others. “All of us were staying away from home since we were afraid the police would think we have links to anti-national outfits. Our families are in shock,” said Sharma.
Investigating officer Y Kamarudheen said police are looking for the rest of the four accused. “We are also looking into whether Salman has any links with anti-national forces,” said the officer.
Advocate M Harilal, who appeared for Salman in court, said the prosecution could not furnish any documents or police intelligence report which could justify Salman being denied bail.
Chairman of the justice for Salman forum B R P Bhaskar said that the charges against Salman were fabricated. “The Centre has already directed that it is not necessary to play the national anthem in public places like theatres. Hence, even if the anthem is played, one need not stand up,” Bhaskar said.
“A criminal charge for such conduct, even if some might regard it as offensive, is completely unwarranted,” said Shailesh Rai, programmes director at Amnesty International India. “Nobody should have to go to prison merely because they are accused of causing offence. The case against Salman should be dropped and he must be released. Indian laws on sedition and online free speech do not meet international human rights standards on freedom of expression. These laws must be repealed,” he said.