‘Facebook law’ in India reversed

A new controversial law which was introduced by India’s supreme court, which gave police the authority to arrest people for their comments on social networks and other internet sites, has been reversed by India’s Supreme court.

Critics had come out against the law saying it was against free speech.

It seems that many of the arrests to date related to posts or emails that were critical of the Indian government, and had, in some cases, resulted in people who simply ‘Liked’ a comment being arrested too.

In November 2012, a 21 year old Indian medical student, Shaheen Dhada was arrested over a Facebook post questioning why her city of Mumbai should come to a standstill to mark the death of prominent politician, Bal Thackeray. Her friend, Rinu Srinivasan, approved of the post and “liked” it on Facebook. She was arrested for liking the post and both were charged with engaging in speech that was offensive and hateful.

After a local Shiv Sena activist filed a complaint, both women were booked under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act and arrested.

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However, the court ruled today that the law was “unconstitutional” as it violated people’s right to freedom of expression. The specific part of the law pertaining to social posting was Section 66A, which allowed for up to three years’ jail time for sending an email or other message that caused annoyance.

Supreme Court Judge Rohinton Fali Nariman wrote in the ruling that the section of the law, known as 66A, was unconstitutional, saying the vaguely worded legislation had wrongly swept up innocent people and had a “chilling” effect on free speech in the world’s most populous democracy.

“Section 66A is cast so widely that virtually any opinion on any subject would be covered by it,” the judge wrote. “If it is to withstand the test of constitutionality, the chilling effect on free speech would be total.”

Sharanya Bharathwaj

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