A Goa court on Friday granted bail to businessman Kenneth Silveira who was arrested two days ago for claiming on Facebook that Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had died. Parrikar is being treated for a pancreatic ailment in the United States.
The crime branch charged Silveira under a non-bailable section of the Indian Penal Code for his Facebook post that had said: “Just got news that Parrikar is no more.” The police said that the post “has spread rumours giving mis-information to the public allowing [sic] news likely to cause feeling of hatred, enmity or ill-will among the people of Goa and others”.
After his arrest, Silveira, who is from the port town of Vasco, was remanded to two days in judicial custody.
Silveira’s Facebook post had drawn several comments that the news was false. He later accepted that his message was incorrect, but did not delete his original post.
Silveira’s father, Eleuterio Silveira, 69, told Scroll.in on Friday that his son was called to the crime branch in relation to another matter, related to property, but the police detained him over his Facebook post instead. “They never served him a notice, they just detained him,” he said.
‘Misuse of political power’
Lawyers, civil rights activists and opposition politicians say they are worried at the impunity, overreach and procedural lapses shown by authorities in Silveira’s arrest.
Right to Information activist and lawyer Aires Rodrigues said that the arrest was “a blatant misuse of political power”. “Silveira’s post is in very bad taste, there is no doubt about that,” he said. “But how do you book somebody for an offence he has not committed? The offence of [Section] 505(2) [under which the businessman has been charged] by no stretch of imagination would apply to this,” said Rodrigues. The lawyer added that Silveira was not even served a notice under Section 41A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which prescribes the entire procedure for the investigation and trial of offences. “It seems we are already living in a state of Emergency,” said Rodrigues.
The Congress’s Girish Chodankar, also said the case was one of police overreach.
The Aam Aadmi Party’s Valmiki Naik said that it was worrying that Section 505(2) – usually applied to communally incendiary statements – were used against Silveira. “When a sadhvi came to Goa and publicly said meat-eaters should be hanged, nothing was done,” he told a gathering of activists and citizens outside the police headquarters in state capital Panjim on Friday morning. “But any threat to the government is being crushed with an iron hand. What is going on?” Silveira’s parents were also at the demonstration.
Other lawyers expressed surprise that the crime branch – which is usually brought in to investigate serious cases – was involved in the arrest.
The complaint against Silveira had been filed by the BJP’s Panjim mandal president, but the case was neither taken up by the Panjim police station nor by the cyber cell.
‘Blow to freedom of expression’
Crime Branch police inspector Rajan Nigalye told the court on Friday that the offence against Silveira had been registered “upon the directions of the superiors”. The police opposed his bail plea, saying that Silviera had contested unsuccessfully against Parrikar in the August 2017 bye-election in Panjim and that “the accused has revengefully used the social media to post such ill feelings amongst the public of Goa”.
People close to Silveira said some of his Youtube videos were stridently critical of the chief minister during the poll campaign.
Police said they seized two mobile sets from Silveira, and sought custodial interrogation before the magistrate, saying his crime was serious in nature and “evil against the society”. The investigating officer said Silveira had “to be thoroughly interrogated…as he must have posted similar post from the devices attached in his crime, as well as other devices”.
Activists said that though Silveira was now out on bail, his arrest was a blow to the freedom of expression. “It is worrying that tomorrow anyone can arrested for a Facebook post,” said Samir Kelekar, IIT engineer and Goa activist.