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Christians oppose internet guidelines

Regulations over what can be posted online 'could be used to persecute religious and ethnic minorities'

Rita Joseph, New Delhi

May 16, 2011

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Christians fear new internet guidelines laid down by the federal government could gag freedom of speech and be used against minorities. Under the new rules websites must tell users not to publish any posts that are blasphemous, incite hatred, are ethnically objectionable, infringe patents, threaten India's unity or public order. The government will be able to block any website or remove any “objectionable” content within 36 hours without explanation, said Nikhil Pahwa, editor of MediaNama, an electronic media website. Department of Information Technology officials say that, with internet usage growing, there needs to be monitoring and regulation. But both the Church and the internet industry are opposed to the new regime, albeit for different reasons. The industry says it will add to its financial burden while the Church is concerned the guidelines might be misused. Father Jude Botelho, director of the National Institute of Social Communications Research and Training says the guidelines are too generic and open to interpretation. It could be a tool to “target” minorities or anyone who does not toe the government line, he said. “The medicine should not worsen the sickness,” said Father George Plathottam, the Catholic bishops’ social communications secretary. Hindu fundamentalists can easily claim Christian literature is meant for conversion and have it removed, the priest said. Father Botelho agrees the guidelines can easily be manipulated to suit vested interests. “We have examples of this in some countries where minorities are harassed and threatened with imprisonment for so-called blasphemy.” The new rules definitely have potential for abuse, said Pushkar Raj, general secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). He cites a recent biography by American author, Joseph Lelyveld, on Mahatma Gandhi which was banned in Gujarat because of passages describing the Father of the Nation’s relationship with another man. Sure some Gandhians might be upset, but does it call for a ban on the book. Where is freedom of expression? Raj asked. “The PUCL is exploring the possibility of challenging the constitutionality of the new rules.” Related report Ban on book ‘gags freedom of speech’ IC14239
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