Tamil Nadu has witnessed a series of arrests of social media activists who have expressed criticism of the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party and its leaders. The most recent arrest is that of N Muthuramalingam, the State Propaganda Secretary of South India Forward Bloc, who was taken into custody for his critical posts on Facebook. This incident has raised concerns about freedom of speech in the state and has sparked debates about selective targeting by the Tamil Nadu police.
Muthuramalingam, a prominent netizen from Dindigul, expressed his views on Facebook regarding the release of terrorists convicted in the 1998 Coimbatore serial blasts case. He criticised Dravidian parties for pushing for the premature release of 36 prisoners, some of whom were convicted for life for their involvement in the 1998 Coimbatore terror attack. In his posts, he raised questions about justice for the victims of these bombings and accused political figures of advocating for the release of brutal criminals. He even made threats to the convicts if they were set free. Muthuramalingam also condemned the attacks carried out by Hamas terrorists on Israel.
In the post , he had written “Will the terrorist dogs who killed people with bombs get justice? How can people from Edappadi (Palaniswami) to Anbumani (PMK leader) without any conscience become advocates for the release of brutal criminals? You want to kill Advani, you want to kill Vajpayee, you won’t kill them directly but kill innocent people along with them. Why shoul we forgive you?“. In another Facebook post, he allegedly threaten to kill the convicts if they were freed. Muthuramalingam had also condemned the barbaric attacks carried out by Hamas terrorists on Israel.
Public Outcry and Previous Arrests
The arrest of N Muthuramalingam has triggered outrage among netizens and activists who believe that the government is suppressing voices that criticize it. The social media sphere has been buzzing with discussions and protests against the apparent crackdown on freedom of expression in Tamil Nadu.
Muthuramalingam’s arrest is not an isolated incident. Over the past two and a half years of DMK rule, several netizens, journalists, and political activists have faced legal action for their online posts critical of the government or its leaders. Notable cases include the arrest of Pravin Raj, a Tamil Nadu BJP functionary, who was taken into custody for his posts targeting the ruling party and Congress. The police even went to Noida to try to arrest journalist Abhijit Majumder for an article criticizing Udhayanidhi Stalin’s remarks. Various others, including Saravana Prasad Balasubramaniam, Karthik Gopinath, vlogger Maridhas, BJP leader Kalyanaraman, and former VHP leader RBVS Manian, have also faced legal action for their comments and criticism.
TN police air dashed to Gujarat to arrest BJP cadre John Ravi, who had made satirical social media posts about CM MK Stalin and his late father, Karunanidhi.
This list is exhaustive.
Those from the rest of India may want to listen to this speech. Especially wokes who have no idea of the hatred spread and the calls for genocide made then. That a genocide did not happen is thanks in large measure to Indira Gandhi,MGR &Jayalalithaa. @netshrink https://t.co/aAUspzrFkG
— Sumanth Raman (@sumanthraman) June 3, 2022
The same police do not dare to touch the people who make derogatory and threatening messages against PM , Home Minister Amit Shah, and state BJP functionaries,Hindu leader and Hindu religion.
@chennaipolice_ will you dare to take action against this@"journalist" @KAG_SekarTwitz
calling for Brahmin Genocide? Or as usual will keep your hands tied with DMK ropes…
ஒரு tweet போட்டா இரவோடு இரவாக கைது பண்ண தெரியுதே…இது உங்களுக்கு தெரியவில்லையா ? pic.twitter.com/9ORP5eQG2g
— NKR Iyer (@NarayananKR777) September 14, 2023
Critics argue that these arrests indicate selective targeting by the Tamil Nadu police and government. They point out that individuals who make derogatory and threatening messages against prominent national figures, such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, seem to be immune from prosecution. This has raised questions about the impartiality of law enforcement in the state.
Prominent Figures’ Statements and Concern Over Freedom of Expression
Prominent political figures and leaders, including Rajiv Gandhi of the DMK, have made controversial statements in the past. For instance, Rajiv Gandhi advocated for the “genocide of Brahmins,” and other leaders like Dravidar Kazhagam leader K Veeramani, VCK leader Thol Thirumavalavan, and DMK MP A Raja have made statements that many would consider divisive or inciteful. Critics argue that these leaders enjoy the freedom of expression, while ordinary citizens like Muthuramalingam face legal consequences for expressing their opinions.
Selva Kumar, Vice-President of the Tamil Nadu BJP- Industrial Cell took to social media platform X to share the news of the arrest. He wrote, “The Dindigul District Police has arrested my dear friend N.Muthuramalingam (State Policy Propagation Secretary, South India Forward Bloc) who posted a Facebook page condemning the efforts being made in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly to free the terrorists of the Coimbatore blasts. Is the Dravida model government to free the terrorist who blew up in Coimbatore and arrest those who tried to knock him down? Legal assistance to him is being done by Palani Kanakaraj (District President(of Dindigul West) and KC Thirumaran, Founder of South India Forward Bloc Party.”
Netizens like Saravana Prasad Balasubramaniam called out the government for suppressing and stifling voices that speak against it or criticises it.
The recent spate of arrests in Tamil Nadu has raised significant concerns about freedom of expression and the right to criticize the government and its policies. Many believe that these arrests infringe upon the fundamental right to freedom of speech, a cornerstone of any democratic society.
The perception that the Tamil Nadu police selectively enforce laws, targeting those critical of the ruling party while turning a blind eye to other offenses, undermines the credibility of the state’s law enforcement agencies. This has led to accusations of political bias and has intensified the ongoing debate over the fairness of the legal system.
The arrest of N Muthuramalingam and the series of previous arrests of social media activists in Tamil Nadu have ignited a debate about freedom of expression and selective targeting by law enforcement agencies. It remains to be seen whether these incidents will lead to reforms in the way such cases are handled and whether the right to criticize the government will be safeguarded in the state. The ongoing public outcry and discussions on social media platforms suggest that this issue will continue to be a topic of intense debate in Tamil Nadu.