India politician jailed over Modi Facebook post

NEW DELHI (AFP) - An Indian politician who posted a picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a begging bowl on Facebook has been arrested, police said on Monday (Jan 28), in the latest example of what critics say is a clampdown on free speech.

It follows more than a dozen similar arrests last year in a clampdown on those attacking the Hindu nationalist premier's policies or ideology.

Sathiyaraj Balu, a member of a local pro-Tamil party, was arrested on Saturday after he posted a morphed picture of Mr Modi with a begging bowl a day ahead of the PM's visit to the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

He has been charged with intent to disrupt the peace and to create ill-will between classes, after an official complaint was made by local members of Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"We received a complaint against him (Balu) and took action as per the law," a senior police officer in the district told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Balu is being remanded in custody pending a police investigation.

A television reporter is in jail in the northeastern state of Manipur for alleged posts that also criticised Mr Modi and the state's chief minister Biren Singh.

Kishorechandra Wangkhem was arrested in December under a draconian law that allows authorities to detain anyone for up to a year without trial.

He had accused Mr Singh of promoting right-wing Hindu ideology in the region and called him a "puppet" of Mr Modi and of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a hardline Hindu group.

Police in September charged the main opposition Congress party's social media chief Divya Spandana with sedition, after she tweeted a meme that showed an altered image of Mr Modi's statue with a placard emblazoned with "thief".

Critics say such arrests are alarming in the world's largest democracy.

"There has been a worrying crackdown on free speech and dissent in India, whether slogans, social media commentary against ruling leaders, or arrests of journalists and activists who criticise the government," Ms Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told AFP.

"People are being accused under range of laws including sedition and threats to national security."