March 24, 2015


[Last week, a young man in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh became one of the latest people to be arrested under the law when the police said he incorrectly attributed a polarizing statement to the lawmaker Azam Khan on Facebook.]

By Nida Najar and Suhasini Raj

A man with his smartphone in New Delhi. The Indian Supreme Court's judgment
was regarded as a landmark ruling on free speech in the country.
Credit Altaf Qadri/Associated Press
NEW DELHI — The Indian Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a section of a law that allowed the authorities to jail people for offensive online posts, in a judgment that was regarded as a landmark ruling on free speech in India.
The law stipulated that a person could be jailed for up to three years for any communication online that was, among other things, “grossly offensive,” “menacing” or “false,” and for the purpose of causing “annoyance,” “inconvenience” or “injury.” The provisions, which led to highly publicized arrests in recent years, had been roundly criticized by legal experts who called them vague and argued that they had been used in some cases to stifle dissent.
Calling the wording so vague that “virtually any opinion on any subject would be covered by it,” the court said “if it is to withstand the test of constitutionality, the chilling effect on free speech would be total.”
Sunil Abraham, the executive director of the Center for Internet & Society, which is based in Bangalore, called the decision “amazing.”
“It is in continuation of a great tradition in India: that of apex courts consistently, over the years, protecting the citizens of India from violations of human rights,” he said.

India is considered by some to be one of the world’s most freewheeling democracies, but the law reflected the ambivalence with which Indian officials have sometimes treated freedom of expression, occasionally citing the Constitution’s allowance of “reasonable restrictions” on free speech in order to ban books, movies and other material about subjects like sex, politics and religion.
The government recently blocked the screening in India of the BBC documentary “India’s Daughter,” about the Delhi gang rape in 2012 that made international news.
The law, the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, was passed by Parliament shortly after the three-day terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2008. It granted the authorities more expansive powers to monitor electronic communications for reasons of national security. That section was not a part of the court case.
In the past, critics have been particularly worried that the section of the law that was struck down was ripe for misuse at the hands of police officials often beholden to political parties.
Last week, a young man in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh became one of the latest people to be arrested under the law when the police said he incorrectly attributed a polarizing statement to the lawmaker Azam Khan on Facebook.
Other highly publicized cases include the arrest in 2012 of a professor accused of sharing cartoons mocking the chief minister of West Bengal State on Facebook and the arrest of two young women after one shared a Facebook post criticizing the virtual shutdown of Mumbai after the death of a revered right-wing political leader there. The professor is still contesting his case in court, while the case against the two young women was dropped in 2013, according to the Press Trust of India.
In a separate part of the Supreme Court judgment, the justices made it harder to force websites to take down content, though a legal expert said it remained to be seen how much of an impediment the ruling would be to blocking content.
Hari Kumar contributed reporting.

@ The New York Times



[Kabul flooded by thousands of protesters demanding justice over mob killing of innocent woman]

Afghan protesters hold banners as they shout slogans during a rally
in front of The Supreme Court in Kabul (AFP/Getty)
Thousands marched through the Afghan capital on Tuesday, demanding justice for a woman who was beaten to death by a mob after being falsely accused of burning a Koran.

Men and women of all ages carried banners bearing the bloodied face of Farkhunda, a 27-year-old religious scholar killed last week by the mob.

Farkhunda, who went by one name like many Afghans, was beaten, run over with a car and burned before her body was thrown into the Kabul River.

Organisers of Tuesday's march estimated 3,000 people took part, calling it one of the biggest demonstrations in Kabul's history.

Marchers chanted "Justice for Farkhunda!" and "Death to the killers!"

Police say 18 people have been arrested and 13 police officers have been suspended, though many suspect that figure will rise as the investigation continues.

The demonstrators also called for action against officials and religious leaders who had initially supported the attack on Farkhunda by saying her killing was justifiable if she had burned pages of a Koran.

The country's Interior Ministry said the spokesman for the Kabul police, Hashmat Stanikzai, had been fired over comments he made on social media supporting Farkhunda's killers. Stanikzai could not be immediately reached for comment.

Among the crowd were prominent rights activists, including Fatana Gailani, the head of the Afghanistan Women's Council, who said she hoped the incident would be a catalyst for change in a society traumatised by war, corruption and lack of leadership.

"We are getting fed up," Gailani said. "The new generation has known nothing but war, they are not educated, and now they have no jobs."