Free Speech Watch: 66A Misuse Continues

Reports today indicate that an FIR has been filed against a woman – Sheeba Aslam Fehmi – for remarks strongly critical of the prime-ministerial candidate, Mr Narendra Modi. The content of the remarks is available at the link posted above. We do not need to go into much detail here: our previous discussion about free speech on this blog – especially the public order restriction – indicates very clearly that the Supreme Court – in cases such as Ram Manohar Lohia, K.A. Abbas and S. Rangarajan, to name just three – has insisted upon a rigorous standard before a public order defense to restricting free speech can be sustained. Recall that in Lohia, a man expressly telling villagers to break the law by not paying taxes was found to be exercising his right of free speech; and in the film censorship cases, the Court insisted that the relevant public order test was akin to setting off a “spark in a powder keg” – which basically refers to situations such as inciting an excited mob to commit direct and immediate violence. Suffice it to say that S. 66A, IT Act must be interpreted within the bounds of 19(2), as must provisions of the Penal Code relating to disturbing communal harmony – and in no way do remarks critical – strongly critical, even virulently critical – of politicians, even if deemed “anti-national” – whatever that might mean! – can be stifled. This is a blatant violation of 19(1)(a), and will hopefully be dealt with accordingly. 

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2 Comments

Filed under Free Speech, IT Act, Public Order

2 responses to “Free Speech Watch: 66A Misuse Continues

  1. KK

    If you believe it is a case of misuse of laws then you must mean to project it as a misuse of IPC S. 153 and S. 295A, perhaps ? The linked article says “All the above postings/publication of the complainant on social media attracts the provisions of IPC under section 153 (A), 153(B) and section 295 A IPC … “ (As reported at http://kafila.org/2013/12/10/delhi-magistrate-orders-fir-against-woman-for-anti-modi-posts-kavita-krishnan/ )

    It seems that the tit-for-tat started when Ms. Fehmi filed an FIR, and the man (Dwivedi) was arrested and charged under S. 66(A) of the IT Act (Information Technology Act) and the Court released him under free speech laws (Article 19) as you have mentioned.

    It is not widely known that free speech laws are effective as antidote against IT Act S.66A. In cases like Justice Chandrasekhar Dharmadhikari vs school principal (report at http://janamejayan.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/one-more-case-of-misuse-of-section-66-a-of-it-act/ ) and many other cases free speech or Article 19 does not seem to be effective as antidote to absue of S.66A. Will the authors comment on this aspect please ?

  2. This ToI article mentions that it’s 66A as well – http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/FIR-against-woman-for-writing-anti-Modi-comments-online/movie-review/26926481.cms Would you by any chance know whether 66A is actually part of the FIR or not? I’ll publish a clarification accordingly. Many thanks.

    I agree that free speech under 19(1)(a) doesn’t seem to be functioning well as of now, but my belief is that that is because the police and the judges are getting the law wrong. Thanks for the link – I’ll read it and try and write about it in due course.

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