“I may not agree with what you say, but I shall defend until death your right to say it” is one of the most profound arguments for freedom of speech and expression. This quote has never been more relevant than under current circumstances when a series of Islamic terror attacks in France has reignited the debate between freedom of speech and blasphemy. These attacks were a response to an offensive depiction of Prophet Mohammad by a satirical magazine. The recent terror attacks and the freedom of expression and religion followed in France have spilled over to the international arena, with several Muslim majority countries like Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia and others criticising French President Macron’s strategy to reform Islam in France in accordance with its constitutional principles.
Recently, the report by The Wall Street Journal highlighting the challenges of monitoring content with a large social media userbase specifically in a country like India went viral. The report claimed that Ankhi Das, Facebook’s top public policy executive in India “opposed applying hate-speech rules” to at least four individuals and groups linked with the BJP, despite they or their post being “flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence.” According to the policy called “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations”, content that praises or supports activity such as “organized hate, mass murder, hate crimes, or terrorist attacks” is to be banned. Owing to this policy, Facebook employees reportedly found that the account of one of the individuals – Telangana BJP MLA T Raja Singh – should have been banned. However, the employees were pulled back from doing so by Ankhi Das claiming “punishing the violations” done by the politicians “would damage the company’s business prospects in the country”.
On July 24, 2019, the Lok Sabha has passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019. This bill, if made into a law, will replace the already existing Unlawful Activity (Prevention) Act, 1967.
Ever since its presentation in the lower house, this bill has been a subject of controversy. This bill is considered by some to be draconian in nature.
According to Amnesty International, the act once amended can designate any individual a terrorist, thus violating international human rights laws and opening the floodgate of harassment of the Human Rights defenders and activists.
Recent happenings across the country against individual rights and free speech have questioned the relevance and the validity of certain laws such as Sedition law, defamation law, and the AFSPA. Sedition law has already been discussed here. In this article, we are going to discuss the defamation law in India, the associated issues and the way forward. AFSPA will be discussed in the next article.
It has been claimed that criminalization of defamation has a harsh effect on the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 and hence demands have been raised to make it as a civil offence. However, the Supreme Court in its 2016 judgement approved the constitutional validity of criminal defamation laws such as IPC sections 499 and 500 which led to widespread criticism across all political circles.
With the Lok Sabha elections near, it is really important that Indians have access to credible and trustworthy information before they vote. The issue is that many do not feel they do.Notably, after the Pulwama attack, social media and messaging apps had overflown with false and deceptive news content as people were trying to understand the horrible violence.This reflects the extent of the fake news menace and the threat it poses to the Indian democracy.
Recently, the Delhi Police filed a charge sheet against 10 people, including student leaders in a sedition case for allegedly raising “anti-national slogans” during an event on the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus in February 2016.
In addition to this, as many as 12 Aligarh Muslim University students, including the university’s students’ union chief, were recently booked under sedition charges after a complaint of alleged assault was filed by an ABVP member.
In another instance where an Assamese scholar and two others were slapped with sedition charges for remarks made against the proposed citizenship law.
These fit a disturbing trend of many incidents in recent times where “misguided” people have been termed “anti-national” and has filed charges of sedition.
Notably, the law commission is in the process of revisiting the section 124A of Indian Penal Code and calls for a thorough reconsideration and presents the different issues with respect to it before the public for a national debate.
In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court of India ruled that consensual adult gay sex is not a crime because sexual orientation is natural and human being have no control over it.