NEW DELHI: India’s top court on Tuesday struck down a controversial law that made posting “offensive” comments online a crime punishable by jail, a ruling which free speech campaigners hailed as a victory.
The Supreme Court said the 2009 amendment to India’s Information Technology Act, known as section 66A and widely criticized as a draconian limit on freedom of speech, was unconstitutional.
“Section 66A is unconstitutional and we have no hesitation in striking it down,” said Justice R.F. Nariman, reading out the judgement.
“The public’s right to know is directly affected by section 66A,” he added.
The Supreme Court had been asked to examine the legality of the amendment, which makes sending information of “grossly offensive or menacing character” punishable by up to three years in jail.
In 2012 two young women were arrested under the act over a Facebook post criticizing the shutdown of financial hub Mumbai after the death of a local hardline politician.
The charges were later quashed by a Mumbai court, but the case sparked outrage and fierce debate about online censorship in India.
Law student Shreya Singhal, who filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the amendment after the two women were arrested, welcomed Tuesday’s ruling as a “big victory.”
“The Internet is so far-reaching and so many people use it that it is very important for us to protect this right today, now,” she said.
“Governments have their own political agenda. A law has to be for the people,” she added.
Farooq Dadha, father of one of the young women, Shaheen Dadha, also welcomed the ruling against what he called a “black law.”
“Credit must go to everyone who fought against this law, including my daughter,” he said.