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Karnataka High Court Questions Interrogation Of Children In Anti-Govt Play In Bidar

Students At A School In Karnataka Performed A Satirical Play On January 21 In Which References Were Made To 'dictators'

Reuters | Updated on: 15 Feb 2020, 08:57:48 AM
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According to an initial police report, the complainant accused school officials of raising 'ill-will and fear among communities' by staging the play. (Photo Credit: Reuters Photo)

Bengaluru :

A court on Friday ordered a Karnataka government to explain why police interrogated children who performed a play critical of a new law, a lawyer said, in a case that has raised questions about freedom of speech. Parliament in December passed a law, championed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP, aimed at facilitating citizenship for migrant members of non-Muslim religions from India's Muslim-majority neighbours. Critics say the law violates India's secular constitution and discriminates against Muslims. At least 25 people have been killed in protests against it.

Students at a school in Karnataka performed a satirical play on January 21 in which references were made to "dictators" and dialogue that is seen particularly against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Police, lawyers and school officials said that following a complaint from a member of the public, the headmistress of the school, Farida Begum, and the mother of one of the children who took part in the play were arrested on January 30.

Police later questioned children as young as nine, some of them as many as five times, said Thouseef Madikeri, chief executive of a foundation that runs the Shaheen English Primary and High School, and Narayan Ganesh, a lawyer for the two accused women.

Karnataka High Court on Friday gave the BJP-led state government until next Wednesday to respond to a rights group's allegations that police illegally questioned the children, said Nayana Jhawar, a lawyer for the group.

A senior police official, Basweshwar H, said the incident was being investigated. He declined to comment further. The court granted bail to headmistress Begum and the mother, according to Keshavarao Srimale, a lawyer for the foundation that runs the school. The women were expected to be freed from jail on Saturday, he added.

According to an initial police report, seen by Reuters, the complainant accused school officials of raising "ill-will and fear among communities" by staging the play.

The two women have been charged under a colonial-era sedition law that rights groups have long argued stifles freedom of expression. "It's a silly case. Lampooning political leaders is not sedition," said Madikeri.

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First Published : 15 Feb 2020, 08:56:58 AM

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