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Is it okay to be jailed for Twitter, Facebook posts?

March24/ 2015

New Delhi, March 24: The Supreme Court is likely to pronounce, on Tuesday, its verdict on the constitutional validity of the controversial section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, allegedly misused by the police to justify arrests of web users posting comments on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Section 66A provides punishment for sending “grossly offensive” messages through communication services, including text messages, images and video.

A bench of justice J Chelameswar and justice RF Nariman had, on February 26, reserved its judgement after the government concluded its arguments contending that section 66A of the IT Act cannot be “quashed” merely because of the possibility of its “abuse”.

During the hearing, the court had said that words such as “grossly offensive”, “annoyance”, “inconvenience” had wide subjective connotations as the law did not specify or gave instances to explain these expressions.

The government had, however, said the section did not suppress free speech and expression. “It is the case of the central government that section 66A, which uses expressions like causing ‘annoyance’, ‘inconvenience’, ‘obstruction’ etc, essentially and mainly to deal with cyber crimes and has no relation with the freedom of speech and expression of any citizen”.

Several petitions, challenging the section, had criticised the arrests that took place under it and demanded striking it down on the grounds that it curtails a person’s freedom of speech and expression.

The first PIL on the issue was filed by a law student, Shreya Singhal, after the Mumbai police arrested two girls for posting “objectionable comments” against Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray.

Some other cases under section 66(A) that made news in the past years include arrest of free speech campaigner Aseem Trivedi for displaying cartoons that mocked Parliament and arrest of two Air India cabin crew members for allegedly posting indecent jokes about the Prime Minister and for insulting the national flag.

The apex court had on May 16, 2013, come out with an advisory that a person, accused of posting objectionable comments on social networking sites, cannot be arrested without police getting permission from senior officers like IG or DCP.

The direction had come in the wake of numerous complaints of harassment and arrests, sparking public outrage. It had, however, refused to pass an interim order for a blanket ban on the arrest of such persons across the country.

(With inputs from PTI)