India to revise enforcement of Internet law

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New Delhi:  The Indian government will soon bar lower-level police officials from arresting people for making offensive comments on social networking sites unless the case is first reviewed by a senior police official, a top government official said on Thursday.

Kapil Sibal, the communications minister, said during a television interview on Thursday that the recent arrests of two young women for their mild criticism of powerful people "are certainly an abuse of the law."

But rather than change the law, he advocated changing its enforcement.

"The law is evolutionary, the process is evolutionary," he said. "Let us now wait for another four to six months; let us wait to see if the process is adequate."

The change comes a week after Shaheen Dhada, 21, a medical student from the outskirts of Mumbai, was arrested after she posted a mild protest on her Facebook account about the fact that Mumbai, India's most populous city, had been nearly completely shut down after the death of Bal K. Thackeray, a right-wing hard-liner.

After Renu Srinivasan, 20,Dhada's friend, clicked "Like" on Dhada's Facebook post, she was also arrested.

The arrests led to national outrage, a storm of media coverage, and tens of thousands of comments on Twitter and Facebook. The policemen who arrested the women were suspended, and the charges against the women were dropped Thursday, according to Indian media reports.

A strike on Wednesday, called by a right-wing religious organization to protest the officers' suspension, closed schools, stores and transportation networks for much of the day in Palaghar, the Mumbai suburb where the women were arrested. The organization, Shiv Sena, which advocates Hindu supremacy, had filed the complaint about Dhada's post that led to the arrests.

Meanwhile, the Indian Supreme Court agreed to consider on Friday whether the law that led to the arrests of the women was unconstitutional.

The justices said they were eager to become involved.

"We were wondering why no one has approached the Supreme Court and even thought of taking up the issue," said Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, according to Indian media reports.

(Sruthi Gottipati contributed reporting)
© 2012, The New York Times News Service
Story First Published: November 30, 2012 11:16 IST

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