FOEX Live: June 16-23, 2014

A weekly selection of news on online freedom of expression and digital technology from across India (and some parts of the world).

A quick and non-exhaustive perusal of this week’s content shows that many people are worried about the state of India’s free speech following police action on account of posts derogatory to or critical of the Prime Minister. Lawyers, journalists, former civil servants and other experts have joined in expressing this worry.

While a crackdown on freedom of expression would indeed be catastrophic and possibly unconstitutional, fears are so far based on police action in only 4 recent cases: Syed Waqar in Karnataka, Devu Chodankar in Goa and two cases in Kerala where college students and principals were arrested for derogatory references to Modi. Violence in Pune, such as the murder of a young Muslim man on his way home from prayer, or the creation of a Social Peace Force of citizens to police offensive Facebook content, are all related, but perhaps ought to be more carefully and deeply explored.


In the Assembly, State Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala said that the State government did not approve of the registration of cases against students on grounds of anti-Modi publications. The Minister denunciation of political opponents through cartoons and write-ups was common practice in Kerala, and “booking the authors for this was not the state government’s policy”.


Nearly 20,000 people have joined the Social Peace Force, a Facebook group that aims to police offensive content on the social networking site. The group owner’s stated aim is to target religious posts that may provoke riots, not political ones. Subjective determinations of what qualifies as ‘offensive content’ remain a troubling issue.

Tamil Nadu:

In Chennai, 101 people, including filmmakers, writers, civil servants and activists, have signed a petition requesting Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa to permit safe screening of the Indo-Sri Lankan film “With You, Without You”. The petition comes after theatres cancelled shows of the film following threatening calls from some Tamil groups.


The K. Chandrasekhar Rao government has blocked two Telugu news channels for airing content that was “derogatory, highly objectionable and in bad taste”.

The Telagana government’s decision to block news channels has its supporters. Padmaja Shaw considers the mainstream Andhra media contemptuous and disrespectful of “all things Telangana”, while Madabushi Sridhar concludes that Telugu channel TV9’s coverage violates the dignity of the legislature.

West Bengal:

Seemingly anti-Modi arrests have led to worry among citizens about speaking freely on the Internet. Section 66A poses a particular threat.

News & Opinion:

The Department of Telecom is preparing a draft of the National Telecom Policy, in which it plans to treat broadband Internet as a basic right. The Policy, which will include deliberations on affordable broadband access for end users, will be finalised in 100 days.

While addressing a CII CEO’s Roundtable on Media and Industry, Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar promised a transparent and stable policy regime, operating on a time-bound basis. He promised that efforts would be streamlined to ensure speedy and transparent clearances.

A perceived increase in police action against anti-Modi publications or statements has many people worried. But the Prime Minister himself was once a fierce proponent of dissent; in protest against the then-UPA government’s blocking of webpages, Modi changed his display pic to black.

Medianama wonders whether the Mumbai police’s Cyber Lab and helpline to monitor offensive content on the Internet is actually a good idea.

G. Sampath wonders why critics of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi can’t voluntarily refrain from exercising their freedom of speech, and allow India to be an all-agreeable development haven. Readers may find his sarcasm subtle and hard to catch.

Experts in India mull over whether Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, carries a loophole enabling users to exercise a ‘right to be forgotten’. Some say Section 79 does not prohibit user requests to be forgotten, while others find it unsettling to provide private intermediaries such powers of censorship.

Some parts of the world:

Sri Lanka has banned public meetings or rallies intended to promote religious hatred.

In Pakistan, Twitter has restored accounts and tweets that were taken down last month on allegations of being blasphemous or ‘unethical’.

In Myanmar, an anti-hate speech network has been proposed throughout the country to raise awareness and opposition to hate speech and violence.

For feedback, comments and any incidents of online free speech violation you are troubled or intrigued by, please email Geetha at geetha[at] or on Twitter at @covertlight.