FOEX Live: May 26-27, 2014

A selection of news from across India implicating online freedom of expression and use of digital technology

Media reports across India are focusing on the new government and its Cabinet portfolios. In the midst of the celebration of and grief over the regime change, we found many reports indicating that civil society is wary of the new government’s stance towards Internet freedoms.

Andhra Pradesh:

Andhra MLA and All India Majlis-e-Ittihad ul-Muslimin member Akbaruddin Owaisi has been summoned to appear before a Kurla magistrate’s court on grounds of alleged hate speech and intention to harm harmony of Hinduism and Islam. Complainant Gulam Hussain Khan saw an online video of a December 2012 speech by Owaisi and filed a private complaint with the court. “I am prima facie satisfied that it disclosed an offence punishable under Section(s) 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code,” the Metropolitan Magistrate said.

Goa:

A Goa Sessions Judge has dismissed shipbuilding diploma engineer Devu Chodankar’s application for anticipatory bail. On the basis of an April 26 complaint by CII state president Atul Pai Kane, Goa cybercrime cell registered a case against Chodankar for allegedly posting matter on a Facebook group with the intention of promoting enmity between religious groups in view of the 2014 general elections. The Judge noted, inter alia, that Sections 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code were attracted, and that it is necessary to find out whether, on the Internet, “there is any other material which could be considered as offensive or could create hatred among different classes of citizens of India”.

Karnataka:

Syed Waqas, an MBA student from Bhatkal pursuing an internship in Bangalore, was picked up for questioning along with four of his friends after Belgaum social activist Jayant Tinaikar filed a complaint. The cause of the complaint was a MMS, allegedly derogatory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After interrogation, the Khanapur (Belgaum) police let Waqas off on the ground that Waqas was not the originator of the MMS, and that Mr. Tinaikar had provided an incorrect mobile phone number.

In another part of the country, Digvijaya Singh is vocal about Indian police’s zealous policing of anti-Modi comments, while they were all but visible when former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh was the target of abusive remarks.

Kerala:

The Anti-Piracy Cell of Kerala Police plans to target those uploading pornographic content on to the Internet and its sale through memory cards. A circular to this effect has been issued to all police stations in the state, and civil society cooperation is requested.

In other news, Ernakulam MLA Hibi Eden inaugurated “Hibi on Call”, a public outreach programme that allows constituents to reach the MLA directly. A call on 1860 425 1199 registers complaints.

Maharashtra:

Mumbai police are investigating pizza delivery by an unmanned drone, which they consider a security threat.

Tamil Nadu:

Small and home-run businesses in Chennai are flourishing with the help of Whatsapp and Facebook: Mohammed Gani helps his customers match bangles with Whatsapp images, Ayeesha Riaz and Bhargavii Mani send cakes and portraits to Facebook-initiated customers. Even doctors spread information and awareness using Facebook. In Madurai, you can buy groceries online, too.

Opinion:

Chethan Kumar fears that Indian cyberspace is strangling freedom of expression through the continued use of the ‘infamous’ Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (as amended in 2008). Sunil Garodia expresses similar concerns, noting a number of arrests made under Section 66A.

However, Ankan Bose has a different take; he believes there is a thin but clear line between freedom of expression and a ‘freedom to threaten’, and believes Devu Chodankar and Syed Waqar may have crossed that line. For more on Section 66A, please redirect here.

While Nikhil Pahwa is cautious of the new government’s stance towards Internet freedoms, given the (as yet) mixed signals of its ministers, Shaili Chopra ruminates on the new government’s potential dive into a “digital mutiny and communications revolution” and wonders about Modi’s social media management strategy. For Kashmir Times reader Hardev Singh, even Kejriwal’s arrest for allegedly defaming Nitin Gadkari will lead to a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

Elsewhere, the Hindustan Times is intent on letting Prime Minister Narendra Modi know that his citizens demand their freedom of speech and expression. Civil society and media all over India express their concerns for their freedom of expression in light of the new government.

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