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May 15, 2013 at 01:01pm IST

Online censorship: SC to hear plea against government action

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear a plea seeking to restrain government authorities from taking any coercive action against anyone for posting alleged objectionable comments on social networking sites. An application was filed before the apex court seeking its direction to the authorities not to take action for posting such comments during the pendency of a case before it pertaining to constitutional validity of section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act.

The section states that any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or communication device, any information that was grossly offensive or has a menacing character could be punished with imprisonment for a maximum term of three years, besides imposition of appropriate fine. A bench of justices BS Chauhan and Dipak Misra will also hear the plea for release of Hyderabad-based woman activist who was arrested and sent to jail over her Facebook post in which certain "objectionable" comments were made against Tamil Nadu Governor K Rosaiah and Congress MLA Amanchi Krishna Mohan.

Jaya Vindhayal, the state general secretary of People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), was remanded on May 13 in judicial custody for 12 days following her arrest the previous day under section 66A of the IT Act for the "objectionable" post. According to the police, she had also allegedly distributed pamphlets making objectionable allegations against Rosaiah and Mohan before posting the comments online.

Online censorship: SC to hear plea against govt action

An application was filed seeking direction to the authorities not to take action for posting comments during the pendency of a case.

The matter was mentioned before the bench by law student Shreya Singhal, seeking an urgent hearing in the case, saying the police is taking action in such matters even though a PIL challenging validity of section 66A is pending before the apex court.

She had filed the PIL after two girls - Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan - were arrested in Palghar in Thane district under section 66A of IT Act after one of them posted a comment against the shut down in Mumbai following Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray's death and the other 'liked' it.

On November 30, 2012, the apex court had sought response from the Centre on the amendment and misuse of section 66A of IT Act and had also directed the Maharashtra government to explain the circumstances under which the 21-year-old girls were arrested. Pursuant to the notice issued by the apex court, the Centre had informed it that the controversial provision in the cyber law under which two girls were arrested for Facebook comments did not curb freedom of speech and alleged "highhandedness" of certain authorities did not mean that it was bad in law.

The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology in its affidavit had said that an advisory had been issued to all the state governments, saying that due diligence and care may be exercised while dealing with cases arising out of the alleged misuse of cyberspace. The Maharashtra Government in its reply had said the arrests of girls in Thane district were "unwarranted" and "hasty", which "cannot be justified".

The state government had also submitted an affidavit stating that the Thane police SP (Rural) had been suspended for arresting the two girls despite the instruction by the Inspector General of Police not to take such action. The court had earlier issued notices and sought responses from governments of Delhi, West Bengal and Puducherry where a professor and a businessman were arrested under section 66A of the Act for a political cartoon and tweeting against a politician respectively.

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