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Indian Supreme Court Strikes Down Section 66A, ‘Facebook Arrest’ Law

Supreme Court of India (Photo: Supreme Court of India)

Supreme Court of India (Photo: Supreme Court of India)

In a landmark ruling affirming the right to free speech on the Internet, India’s Supreme Court has struck down a controversial law under which police had the power to arrest people for comments they posted on social networks and other websites.

The Times of India reports the nation’s highest court on Tuesday declared Section 66A of Information Technology Act unconstitutional.

“Section 66A is unconstitutional and we have no hesitation in striking it down,” Justice RF Nariman said, according to Agence France-Presse. “The public’s right to know is directly affected by Section 66A.”

Under the law, a person could be jailed for as many as three years for sending an email or other electronic message that “causes annoyance or inconvenience.” The law has drawn fierce criticism, as it has been used as justification for the arrest of several people who posted comments on Facebook and Twitter that angered authorities.

BBC reports the legislation was first challenged by law student Shreya Singhal after two women were arrested in Mumbai in 2012 for posting Facebook comments following the death of politician Bal Thackeray.

Shaheen Dhada was detained for a Facebook post critical of Mumbai’s shutdown following Thackeray’s death, while Rinu Srinivasan was arrested for ‘liking’ Dhada’s comment. The two women were among at least six people arrested under Section 66A, all of them for posts critical of government officials or corruption.

The arrests sparked widespread outrage and calls for the law to be repealed. The government rejected these calls, arguing the law was meant to deter people from sharing offensive material online, actions which could possibly trigger public anger and incite violence.

“I feel very happy right now,” Srinivasan told Firstpost upon hearing of the two-judge ruling. “Back then I kept thinking how my life has completely changed. Now I feel like I have gotten justice.”

Srinivasan said she will continue to post freely on social media sites.

“The judgment is well researched, well reasoned and erudite in expression,” former attorney general Soli J Sorabjee, who appeared in court for one of the petitioners, told the Times of India. “It is a glorious vindication of freedom of expression.”

Popular author Chetan Bhagat expressed his pleasure with the high court’s decision. “Glad to know I live in a free country,” Bhagat tweeted. “No #Sec66A as SC strikes it down. Super happy. Go on, troll away.”

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