Political parties differ over SC quashing controversial Section 66A

New Delhi: The BJP, AAP and CPI-M on Tuesday hailed the Supreme Court verdict striking down the controversial Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which was used to arrest people over social media postings. The Congress said it respected the verdict while the JD-U and Shiv Sena expressed their reservations.

The government also welcomed the apex court verdict.

With Section 66A having come into force in 2008 when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was in power, the party came out with a detailed response saying that it stood for freedom of speech but one person's liberty of expression should not infringe on some other person's liberty.

In a statement, the party said it has always been the champion and torch-bearer of freedom of expression, democratic dissent and right to criticise.

It said Section 66A was enacted to prevent online abuse and hounding of groups and individuals and check propagation of false information.

The government had included safeguards in the law which were not found sufficient by the Supreme Court, the party said.

The party said the onus now lies with the government to re-examine the issue and strike an appropriate balance by upholding freedom of expression and also deter unbridled defamation in cyberspace.

"We hope that the government will be guided by the sole consideration of upholding individual's liberty of expression with reasonable restriction."

The Congress accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of double standards on the issue.

"Arun Jaitley termed the law as 'online emergency' while in opposition and justified the same law when in power through an affidavit in the Supreme Court by stating that Section 66A was necessary to 'regulate the use of cyberspace'," the Congress pointed out.

Congress leaders also reacted to the verdict.

Shashi Tharoor tweeted: "Glad the SC has struck down section 66A of the IT Act, which was liable to misuse; freedom must not be curbed."

Manish Tewari said: "Section 66A gave too much power in the hands of law enforcement agencies. It's a welcome decision."

Janata Dal-United leader Sharad Yadav said he "totally disagreed with the verdict".

"Look at the kind of things that are coming on Twitter," he said.

Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said police need powers to deal with the misuse of social media.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said scrapping of Section 66A was "a big day for freedom of speech n expression".

BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli told reporters it was a "landmark day for freedom of speech and expression".

Welcoming the verdict, Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Brinda Karat told IANS that the party has "always strongly opposed it not just because it is a question of misuse, it was also an instrument to curb the democratic expression".

Communications and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad welcomed the court decision and said people in power should be tolerant and liberal towards criticism.

"The government is committed to free speech. India is a democratic country and free flow of ideas should be respected. We do not seek to curtail any right," Prasad said.

The minister, however, said it was important to have self-regulation and that social media platforms should also practice some self-restraint.

Section 66A reads: "Any person who sends by any means of a computer resource any information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character; or any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine."

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