The Mumbai Police on Monday detained and questioned activist Harshali Potdar for sharing a Facebook post last April, citing that it had the potential to create “communal tension in society”.
Last week, the sessions court had rejected Potdar’s anticipatory bail application with the police submitting that her custodial interrogation was necessary since the post was “serious”.
Around 2.30 pm on Monday, officers from the M R A Marg police approached Potdar at a restaurant and asked her to accompany them. She was taken to the police station, where she was questioned and allowed to leave at 7 pm.
Later, in a Facebook live session, Potdar said that she was having lunch at a restaurant in south Mumbai, when police officers took her to the M R A Marg police station. She said that she was told to fill an arrest form and was asked her for the details of a family member who could be informed about her arrest.
She added that her brother was called and told that she was being arrested and that she would be produced before the court on Tuesday. “Till 6.30 pm, I was being told that it is a formal arrest. Thereafter, I was told that my statement would be recorded. I do not know why this was done,” she said.
An officer from M R A Marg police said that she was questioned about the cellphone she was using when she had shared the post and was asked to hand it over.
The M R A Marg police had earlier claimed that a complaint was filed after a police officer – part of the special branch’s social media lab – saw the post on April 1 on Potdar’s Facebook profile. The FIR, in which Potdar and the author of the post, Mohsin Shaikh, were named, was filed under sections 153A(1) (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race) and 34 (common intent) of the Indian Penal Code.
The post, pertaining to a Tablighi Jamaat congregation last March, criticised the government and certain media houses for blaming the group for the spread of Covid-19. The police alleged that the post, which was deleted later, pitched two communities against each other and its publication during the pandemic could “instigate” people, leading to serious consequences.
Potdar’s lawyer Ishrat Khan had told the sessions court that the allegations are false and that the complaint was filed only to harass her and restrain her from carrying out social work. Potdar, an alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, has actively taken up issues faced by the Dalit community, the court was told. Potdar maintains that she had not shared the post in question.
She was initially granted interim protection by the court but it was later vacated, with the court rejecting her pre-arrest bail. The court, while denying her anticipatory bail, had said that the sections under which Potdar has been booked are prima facie serious and require detailed investigation.
The police had claimed that Potdar had given it a different phone than the one she was using at the time of the publication of the post. It had also claimed that there were previous offences against Potdar — mostly pertaining to protests.
Potdar was also named as an organiser of the Elgaar Parishad event held in Pune on December 31, 2017 in the FIR lodged by the Vishrambaug police. The NIA, which took over the case from the Pune Police last January, has not chargesheeted her.
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