FOEX Live: June 8-15, 2014

Posted by Geetha Hariharan at Jun 16, 2014 09:55 AM |
A weekly selection of news on online freedom of expression and digital technology from across India (and some parts of the world). Please email relevant news/cases/incidents to geetha[at]cis-india.org.

Karnataka:

A Hindu rightwing group demanded the arrest of a prominent activist, who during a speech on the much-debated Anti-superstition Bill, made comments that are allegedly blasphemous.

Kerala:

On June 10, the principal and six students of Government Polytechnic at Kunnamkulam, Thrissur, were arrested for publishing a photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi alongside photographs of Hitler, Osana bin Laden and Ajmal Kasab, under the rubric ‘negative faces’. An FIR was registered against them for various offences under the Indian Penal Code including defamation (Section 500), printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory (Section 501), intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace (Section 504), and concealing design to commit offence (Section 120) read with Section 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention). The principal was later released on bail.

In a similarly unsettling incident, on June 14, 2014, a case was registered against the principal and 11 students of Sree Krishna College, Guruvayur, for using “objectionable and unsavoury” language in a crossword in relation to PM Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Shashi Tharoor, etc. Those arrested were later released on bail.

Maharashtra:

Facebook posts involving objectionable images of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar led to arson and vandalism in Pune. Police have sought details of the originating IP address from Facebook.

A Pune-based entrepreneur has set up a Facebook group to block ‘offensive’ posts against religious leaders. The Social Peace Force will use Facebook’s ‘Report Spam’ option to take-down of ‘offensive’ material.

Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar suggested a ban on social media in India, and retracted his statement post-haste.

Punjab:

A bailable warrant was issued against singer Kailash Kher for failing to appear in court in relation to a case. The singer is alleged to have hurt religious sentiments of the Hindu community in a song, and a case registered under Sections 295A and 298, Indian Penal Code.

Uttar Pradesh:

The presence of a photograph on Facebook, in which an accused in a murder case is found posing with an illegal firearm, resulted in a case being registered against him under the IT Act.

News & Opinion:

Authors, civil society activists and other concerned citizens issued a joint statement questioning Prime Minister Modi’s silence over arrests and attacks on exercise of free speech and dissent. Signatories include Aruna Roy, Romila Thapar, Baba Adhav, Vivan Sundaram, Mrinal Pande, Jean Dreze, Jayati Ghosh, Anand Pathwardhan and Mallika Sarabhai.

In response to Mumbai police’s decision to take action against those who ‘like’ objectionable or offensive content on Facebook, experts say the freedom to ‘like’ or ‘share’ posts or tweets is fundamental to freedom of expression. India’s defamation laws for print and the Internet need harmonization, moreover.

While supporting freedom of expression, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar cautioned the press and all users of social media that the press and social media should be used responsibly for unity and peace. The Minister has also spoken out in favour of free publication, in light of recent legal action against academic work and other books.

Infosys, India’s leading IT company, served defamation notices on the Economic Times, the Times of India and the Financial Express, for “loss and reputation and goodwill due to circulation of defamatory articles”. Removal of articles and an unconditional apology were sought, and Infosys claimed damages amounting to Rs. 2000 crore. On a related note, Dr. Ashok Prasad argues that criminal defamation is a violation of freedom of speech.

Drawing on examples from the last 3 years, Ritika Katyal analyses India’s increasing violence and legal action against dissent and hurt sentiment, and concludes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has both the responsibility and ability to “rein in Hindu hardliners”.

Discretionary powers resting with the police under the vaguely and broadly drafted Section 66A, Information Technology Act, are dangerous and unconstitutional, say experts.

Providing an alternative view, the Hindustan Times comments that the police ought to “pull up their socks” and understand the social media in order to effectively police objectionable and offensive content on the Internet.

Keeping Track:

Indconlawphil’s Free Speech Watch keeps track of violations of freedom of expression in India.

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