'Victims' rejoice as Supreme Court scraps controversial cyber provision

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Kolkata, March 24: Victims and legal experts on Tuesday hailed the Supreme Court's verdict striking down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and termed it a victory for the common man's free speech.

Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra who was arrested under the section in 2012 for circulating emails mocking West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, said the verdict will help in removing the fear psychosis that had gradually developed over the "draconian" law.

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"This is a victory of the common man's freedom of speech. This verdict will surely remove the fear psychosis that has been developing among a large section of internet users that they may get arrested for even innocuous of acts," Mahapatra told reporters.

The chemistry professor, however, expressed his reservation over the judgement having an effect on preserving freedom of speech in the state.

"It surely is a welcome judgement and has come as a relief to many like me who have been subject to regular harassment due to the legal procedures, but I don't think, this will have any role in protecting freedom of speech in Bengal," said Mahapatra a fierce critic of the Banerjee led Trinamool Congress government.

Apex court bench of Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman on Tuesday said: "Section 66A of the IT Act is struck down in its entirety."

The judgement came in a petition that was moved one Shreya Singhal in 2012 and was later joined by NGOs Common Cause, People Union for Civil Liberty (PUCL) Aand individuals including self-exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen

Cartoonist and free speech activist Aseem Trivedi who too was booked under the law in 2012, called the judgement a landmark for the social media.

"This is a landmark judgement against a very evil law that has been widely misused by political parties and the administration to curb freedom of speech," Trivedi told IANS.

The cartoonist was arrested in 2012 allegedly poking fun at the Constitution and the national emblem by drawing cartoons which were circulated at Anna Hazare's anti-corruption rally in Mumbai in 2011.

"Social networks are now an important part of the society and play a very vital role bringing forth the evils that besiege it. This judgement will ensure that social media continues to play an important role in shaping up the society," said Trivedi.

"There have been countless people who have fallen victim to this draconian law, perhaps this is a victory for all those," added Trivedi who was recently absolved of sedition charges by a Mumbai court.

Former Supreme Court judge A.K. Ganguly said the law was violative of India's democratic principles and the court's decision will play a big part in preserving freedom of speech.

"It's a bold judgement and I wholeheartedly welcome it. The section was not only vague but provided for individual discrimination and was against the democratic principle which is essence of our constitution," Ganguly said.

"This judgement will go to play a large role in restoring freedom of speech which has often been curbed by powers that be by using this section which was against the constitutional rights and freedoms enshrined in articles 14, 19 and 21," said Ganguly who has formed Save Democracy Forum - an apolitical platform that has been vocal against the "deterioration of democracy in the state".

Kavita Srivastava of PUCL told IANS: "It's a major achievement for crusaders of freedom of speech and confirms our belief that in democracy you cannot continue to crush the voice of dissent. With this judgement more and more people, now will fearlessly use the social media to highlight the tyrannical ways of our politicians especially those now in power."

IANS

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