ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Freedom of Expression Is a Right

The Supreme Court's ruling striking down Section 66A ventures to provide a larger protection to free speech.

In a judgment that sits squarely alongside judicial landmarks such as Bhagwati Charan Shukla, Romesh Thapar and Maneka Gandhi, the Supreme Court’s decision to scrap Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act represents a crucial restatement of the citizen’s right to free speech and expression in an era where both the technologies of communication and censorship have expanded manifold.

But Justices J Chelameswar and Rohinton Nariman have done much more than strike down a law that has had a chilling effect on the expression of online speech. Their well-reasoned ruling strikes a body blow to the growing official tendency to treat dissent and debate, criticism and sarcasm, humour and irony as acts of subversion that must be policed and punished, if need be. “Mere discussion or even advocacy of a particular cause, howsoever unpopular,” they declared, “is at the heart of Article 19(1)(a)” protections that the Constitution provides to all citizens. “It is only when such discussion or advocacy reaches the level of incitement” that the restrictions envisaged by Article 19(2) can kick in—restrictions made in the interests of upholding public order, for instance. Though the judges were pronouncing on the limited question of whether certain impugned sections of the IT Act, 2000, were unconstitutional, their judgment will provide a protective shield to all those individuals—whether acting online or offline—who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law for having peacefully questioned or challenged government policy.

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