Recent events over the last few days have caused a bit of an outrage in the public area and rightly so. The arrest of journalist Prashant Kanojia has brought back to the forefront a 'jilted' provision amongst others that furthers the arbitrary and indiscriminate arrests of social media users. We join others in demanding his immediate release but are also further pressing for much needed policy and legal reforms.
With the formation of the new Government and our best foot forward, we write to Shri. Amit Shah, Minister of Home Affairs with a copy marked to Shri. Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Electronics and Information Technology and Minister of Law and Justice.
The representation highlights the need for legal reforms in India to ensure freedom of speech and expression. With the continuously increasing number of Indians gaining access to the Internet, fear of unlawful prosecution and arrests only appear to be growing. This in all eventualities results in an incredible amount of self-censorship; a direction India seems to be moving towards similar to that of China. The repeal of criminal defamation and sedition is the need of the hour, more now so than ever before. Such a grand task can only be achieved with initiative by the Central Government of India to ensure momentum towards such reform.
A few steps moving forward for both temporary remedies and long term reform have been suggested in the representation.
Immediate steps: Issue a detailed advisory to all State Governments cautioning against the use of criminal law to police free speech of social media users. Especially, arbitrary arrests.
Long-term systemic reform: Operationalise the Law Commission of India to spearhead a comprehensive media and speech laws reform project with public participation.
We are optimistic that the necessary steps will be taken by the respective ministries in addressing these issues. Till then, IFF will continue to advocate for the rights of every Priyanka Sharma and Prashant Kanojia on the online platform of their choice.
- Copy of the Representation sent to the Central Government (link)
- Past post on the Ghosts of Section 66A (link)
- The #SpeechBill Campaign to modernise defamation law (link)