Skip to main content

Trend of intolerance towards dissent under Modi: Amnesty calls for decriminalization of free speech

By Our Representative
In an important submission before the Law Commission of India, the Amnesty International India has insisted on the need to undertake critical legal reforms to better defend the right to free speech. Saying that this is important against the backdrop of a “growing trend of intolerance towards dissent and criticism” in the recent weeks, elucidating the submission, Amnesty's senior policy adviser Shailesh Rai said, “Authorities have shown a worrying eagerness to arrest and detain people for the lawful exercise of their constitutional rights to free speech, especially when it concerns the new Prime Minister.”
Giving reasons for the submission, Rai said, “In May 2014, police in Bangalore arrested a man for sending a photograph on his phone depicting Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a funeral pyre. The same month, police in Panaji, Goa filed a First Information Report against a man who said in an online post that if Narendra Modi came to power, it would lead to a holocaust.”
Rai added, “In both cases, police relied partly on section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which criminalises online communication that is ‘grossly offensive’, and persistent sending of information known by the sender to be false, to cause ‘annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will”.
Rai further said, “In June, police arrested students and staff at a college in Kunnamkulam, Kerala, over an article that featured the Prime Minister in a list of ‘negative faces’ in a college magazine. The next week, police in Guruvayur, Kerala arrested students and staff at a different college over a crossword puzzle that used derogatory language to refer to the Prime Minister and other political leaders.In both cases, the police said that the expressions amounted to criminal defamation, among other offences”.
“While these expressions may be offensive to some, they certainly do not merit arrests and criminal cases,” said Rai, adding, “Unfortunately, some Indian laws, including those on defamation and online speech, fall short of international standards on freedom of expression and enable the criminalizing of opinion. The government must act to urgently amend these laws.” Amnesty's submission follows the Law Commission of India’s request for comments in May 2014 on a consultation paper on aspects of media laws.
Amnesty, which submitted its recommendations to the Law Commission on June 21, called for “the decriminalization of defamation, and legal reform to guard against abusive civil defamation lawsuits.” It urged “amendment to laws on contempt of court to abolish the offence of ‘scandalising the court’, and the repeal of section 66A of the Information Technology Act.”
“These laws affect not just journalists, but ordinary people too. For public debate to remain robust in India, people should be able to express their opinions without fear of prosecution,” explained Rai, adding, “The government must do more to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression.”
Amnesty also recommended the decriminalization of defamation by repeal of Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code. If this happens, then the current situation – under which, if proven, criminal defamation is punishable with imprisonment for up to two years and/or fine – would no more exist. “The remedies”, according to Amnesty, “should include correction and apologies, with proportionate damages.”
Amnesty cited the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides for restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, including those seeking to respect the rights and reputations of others. “Such restrictions are nevertheless an interference with freedom of expression and so must serve a legitimate aim, be proportionate to that aim and be the least restrictive available option”, Amnesty points out.
Amnesty said, “A suggestion to decriminalize defamation has also come from the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC),that has found that keeping defamation cases open for long periods of time and not proceeding to trial expeditiously can have a chilling effect on freedom of expression.” Then, “the UN Special Rapporteur, the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) Representative on Freedom of the Media and the OAS (Organization of American States) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression have also jointly called for the repeal of criminal defamation laws.”
As for civil defamation, the Amnesty quoted the Special Rapporteur which stated in 2004: “Any fines that are levied should not prevent the continuation of press activities and investigations and should be appropriate to the financial resources of journalists…defamation cases could equally be solved without recourse to the judiciary, but through the good offices of a mediator.”

Comments

TRENDING

Green revolution "not sustainable", Bt cotton a failure in India: MS Swaminathan

Counterview Desk
In a recent paper in the journal “Current Science”, distinguished scientist PC Kesaven and his colleague MS Swaminathan, widely regarded as the father of the Green Revolution, have argued that Bt insecticidal cotton, widely regarded as the continuation of the Green Revolution, has been a failure in India and has not provided livelihood security for mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers.
Sharply taking on Green Revolution, the authors say, it has not been sustainable largely because of adverse environmental and social impacts, insisting on the need to move away from the simplistic output-yield paradigm that dominates much thinking. Seeking to address the concerns about local food security and sovereignty as well as on-farm and off-farm social and ecological issues associated with the Green Revolution, they argue in favour of what they call sustainable ‘Evergreen Revolution’, based on a ‘systems approach’ and ‘ecoagriculture’.
Pointing out that Evergreen Revol…

Rejoinder: Inescapable to have Central Water Commission as strong technical body in India

By BN Navalawala*
This is with reference to Counterview Blog (December 5, 2018), "Modi govt 'shelves' water reforms report, shows 'no interest' in its recommendations", below mentioned are my comments/observations thereon:
A committee was constituted under the Chairmanship of Dr. Mihir Shah, Former Member, Planning Commission, for restructuring of Central Water Commission (CWC) and Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) for optimal development of water resources in the country in the backdrop of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

Some Hindu bodies in US defending BJP-RSS' divisive, violent activities: Agnivesh

Counterview Desk Last week, Washington DC saw speakers at a religious freedom roundtable, chaired by the US Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, express concern over "eroding" space for religious freedom in India. Dr Mike Ghouse, executive director, of the Center for Pluralism in Washington DC, referring to the roundtable, said in an email alert that Indian-Americans have "a moral duty to prevent India from being labeled as a Country of Particular Concern by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)".

Karnataka: NGO Akshay Patra "not sensitive" to nutrition demands of school children

Counterview Desk
Well-known civil rights organizations, Right to Food Campaign and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, have sent a letter to the Union minister of human resource development, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, other concerned ministers and officials of the state expressing concerns regarding the mid-day meal (MDM) to school children, insisting, all contracts to the Akshay Patra for supply of MDM should be immediately terminated.

Rejoinder: Worldwide anxiety post-Fukishima is fading, slowly and steadily

By Dr KS Parthasarathy* 
EAS Sarma, former Secretary, Government of India (GoI) in a letter addressed to the Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), GoI, stated that, there has been "worldwide anxiety about the consequences of catastrophic nuclear accidents, either due to manual lapses or natural calamities" (Counterview, December 2, 2018). "In the recent years, globally, the pace of growth of nuclear power has escalated in leaps and bounds, causing a great deal of public concern and apprehension."

India's rewritten textbooks talk of demerits of democracy, praise Hitler, underrate Mughals

Counterview Desk
A detailed, 3,800-word review of the books rewritten under directions of the BJP rulers across India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in May 2014 has suggested that one of aims of the books is to instill a sense of doubt about India’s democratic polity among the country’s young minds. Reviewed in the prestigious US journal, “The New York Review of Books”, in its latest issue (December 6, 2018) by Alex Traub, the scrutiny insists, the effort has also been to paint Indian history from the angle of “Hindu triumphalism”, even as creating “Islamophobia”.

Preventing childhood deaths: India performs worse than Bangladesh, "equals" Pakistan

By Rajiv Shah
A just-released study, “The Pneumonia and Diarrhea Progress Report 2018”, prepared by the International Vaccine Access Centre (IVAC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has identified India among 15 other countries which are still far off the mark in achieving the targets of the Global Action Plan for the Prevention of Pneumonia and Diarrhea (GAPPD).

Modi's PRO, who served previous Congress, BJP CMs in Gujarat with "equal" competence

By Rajiv Shah
A public relations officer (PRO), even as maintaining anonymity, is supposed to “manage” reputation of his or her client, reflecting the client’s views in order to influence opinion and behaviour. A PRO is also known to use, the world over, media and communication to build, maintain, manage and plan publicity strategies and campaigns, even as dealing with enquiries from the public, particularly media, organising promotional events such as press conferences, open days, exhibitions, tours and visits. A PRO is also supposed to final touches to press statements for his or client.

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.

Proposed expansion of Karnataka N-plant "ignores" worldwide anxiety post-Fukishima

Counterview Desk
EAS Sarma, former secretary, Government of India (GoI), in a letter addressed to secretary, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), GoI, with copies to chairman, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and chairman Karnataka Pollution Control Board, has said that radiation and environmental risks have been ignored in DAE’s proposal to set up Units 5 & 6 (2X700MWe) at Kaiga Nuclear Power Station in Karnataka.