Presently lot of discussions are happening in India on “Free Speech” and “Internet Censorship”. In this context I would like the community to be reminded of the case of Zone-H.org which was blocked in India following a defamation case filed under Section 66A by a Hyderabad company called E2 Labs.
The Government of India has been defending its decision to block Zone-H.org behind a decision of the Delhi High Court.
It was a fact that the complaint was filed with a request for an interim order to block the site which was granted in good faith by the Court until the case could be heard in detail. However the system was managed in such a manner that the respondent living abroad received an e-mail notice to appear in the Court with a notice of less than 24 hours. Obviously this was not possible and also that the respondent did not feel necessary to spend his money and time to respond. In the process the interim order remained unchallenged and became permanent. ( The developments have been summarised by Zone-H.org in this article)
During the discussions Naavi.org had brought to the notice of the Government of India that there was a prima facie need for the CERT IN to implede in the case and put across its point of view to the Court since there was an apparent accusation that the petitioner had committed some offences including the misuse of Government department’s name for promotion and fund raising as well as that there was a hacking of Government websites to create grounds for the petitioner to canvass business. These were serious charges which any sensible Government would have pursued. But the Government decided to ignore these charges and indirectly assisted the complainant in getting the Zone-H.org site blocked. Had these facts/accusations been brought to the attention of the Court, it is possible that the Court would not have given the interim order in favour of the petitioner.
Now that a new PIL has come before the Supreme Court in which the Constitutional Validity of Section 66A of ITA 2008 is being questioned, the Zone-H.org case will come for an automatic review.
The Zone-H.org case was perhaps the first case in which Section 66A was invoked for “Defamation” and hence the current PIL and this case are related. Since the respondent (Zone-H.org) is unlikely to raise this issue, it is unclear how the issue can come before the Court now unless the Supreme Court takes a Suo-Moto decision to consider that Zone-H.org blocking case is relevant to the current set of cases such as Aseem Trivedi etc and provide its considered view.