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The MiDDAY People's Freedom Charter

Since its inception in 1979, MiDDAY has stood for and stridently defended free speech principles. Today, this newspaper takes one more step in defending the citizens’ right to free speech with the MiDDAY People’s Freedom Charter. It is no secret that governments do not like criticism. It is also no secret that political parties, regardless of their ideology, have opposed the principles of free speech and expression.

The latest instance of two women being arrested in Palghar in Thane district is a case in point, where the city Shiv Sena head complained to the local police when a 21-year-old girl questioned on Facebook as to why an entire city should shut down because Bal Thackeray had died.

The two women were initially booked under Section 295A of the IPC for hurting the religious sentiment of others, and Section 66A of the Information Technology Act which allows arrest of a person who sends, by means of a computer or communication device, information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character.
 
The charges were later changed and the women were charged afresh under Section 505(2) of the IPC, which books people for making, publishing, circulating statement on grounds of religion, caste or community, feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will.
 
Another misuse of law is the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, which is being used to intimidate the common man to stop criticising anyone, be it the government or otherwise.

Since the interpretation of the section 66A is uncertain, its application is often arbitrary and, in the case of the Palghar women, baseless. The arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi is another case in point. The arrest of a man in Puducherry for tweeting against Karthi Chidambaram, son of Union Finance Minister P  Chidambaram is a third.

The section says: “Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc. - Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,-(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or (b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently makes by making use of such computer resource or a communication device, (c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.”

This newspaper stood for free speech when the government of India arbitrarily blocked many Twitter IDs and Facebook pages a few months ago, and defended the right of social media to criticise the government. The Charter will also be the guiding principle for our reportage. With the MiDDAY People’s Freedom Charter, we wish to take the next step in ensuring that draconian and ambiguous laws are no longer part of our legal ecosystem. Only then shall we become the true democracy that we set out to become in 1947. Only then shall we keep our tryst with destiny.

Five-point charter 
>> Citizens have the right to absolute freedom of speech and expression. It is our right to speak our mind and express our opinion without any fear.

>>Citizens have the right to question authority without the fear of retribution.

>> Citizens shall defend the liberty for artists and their creative freedom. Art, in any form, should flourish in an atmosphere of intellectual creativity, and should stimulate debate, not violence.

>> Citizens shall oppose any kind of intimidation, and shall not live in fear. Both have no place in a democracy.

>> Citizens shall oppose a police state. We shall defend the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution, and fight the laws tailored to be interpreted arbitrarily in favour those of in charge.

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