IFF Demands that Indore Collector Withdraw Notice on Social Media Censorship of Demonetisation-related media
The Internet Freedom Foundation today has sent a legal notice to Indore’s District Collector asking him to withdraw his recent order banning “misleading and objectionable” posts on social media related to demonetisation.
We have asked the District Collector to rescind the order and publish a copy of the withdrawal order on the Internet. Apart from this we have suggested that the District Collector use social media platforms to dispel rumours, as was done, for example, by the Bengaluru Police during the Cauvery water agitation a couple of months ago.
The District Collector’s order is an overreach of the Criminal Procedure Code, and we are very concerned about the implications it has on Indians’ fundamental rights and freedom of expression. In the past, we have seen misuse of Section 144 of the CrPC--for example when the Internet was shut down in Gujarat to “prevent students from cheating” in examinations. The use of Section 144 by the District Collector in this instance is another example of broad pre-censorship and is heavily disproportionate to the intended objective of maintenance of public order.
We also pointed out that the use of the CrPC is an unwarranted response to rumour-mongering, and that we are concerned about the legality and the scope of the power invoked, and the impact it has on Fundamental Rights guaranteed by our Constitution. Although rumours may cause annoyance, they aren’t illegal. The CrPC is only applicable when criminal intent is evident.
Though the powers offered to the state by the CrPC are wide, the reason for invoking them, a Supreme Court order has stated, must be narrow and specific. A preventive order only relating to a subject (such as rumours related to demonetisation) without referring to the actual text in a message, is broad pre-censorship.
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