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Top court issues warning on internet law

Guidelines on libel arrests must be followed, judges say

Swati Deb, New Delhi

May 17, 2013

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India's Supreme Court has warned state governments to follow federal guidelines stipulating that people who post "objectionable comments" on social networking sites should not be arrested without prior authorization from senior police officials.

The court is currently examining the constitutional validity of a law that allows police to arrest people sending "false and offensive messages through communication services," such as the internet. Violators can face a three year jail term for the offence.

Critics say the law is being abused. They point to several cases where lower ranking police officers have made arrests for posts on Facebook that many people thought trivial but were considered objectionable by political figures.

The guidelines, set down by the federal government in January, say that a person suspected of violating this law should be not arrested without permission from an officer not below the rank of Inspector-General in metropolitan cities and not below the rank of Deputy Commissioner or Superintendent of Police in districts.

"We direct the state governments to ensure compliance with the guidelines before making any arrest," the Times of India quoted Supreme Court justices B S Chauhan and Dipak Misra as saying yesterday.

The Supreme Court was yesterday hearing a petition challenging one such case.

Jaya Vindhayal, the general secretary of rights group, People’s Union for Civil Liberties was jailed on Monday after being arrested by a low-ranking officer in Andhra Pradesh.

She had allegedly made comments on Facebook that offended several politicians.

The federal government’s guidelines came in the wake of a high profile case in November last year that drew international outrage.

Two girls were arrested for posting comments criticizing a local political party in Maharashtra over the funeral of its founder Bal Thackeray.

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