Editorial: Judges’ Remarks On Downloading Content Offer Some Reprieve

Editorial: Judges’ Remarks On Downloading Content Offer Some Reprieve

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Saturday, March 09, 2024, 10:20 AM IST
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Representative Image | Pixabay

It is a detail, but one that could determine a lot about personal liberty when the all-powerful state decides to go after individuals with the harshest of laws in its quiver. While acquitting the Delhi University professor GN Saibaba and five others of charges related to terrorism and waging war against the country under five most stringent sections of the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) this week, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court made a significant ruling. The two-judge bench of Justices Vinay Joshi and Valmiki Menezes ruled that simply downloading material about an ideology from the internet does not constitute an offence. In fact, the judges went so far as to point out that indicting individuals for their choice to read or write Communist or Maoist literature, available on the internet, violates fundamental rights under Article 19 of the Constitution of India.

This ruling and remark have come not a day too soon given the rise in political prisoners in the last few years where the State has come down with harsh action under draconian laws like the UAPA to incarcerate people who follow particular ideologies, most notably those of the Left and far Left, and has repeatedly accused them with terror charges based on what they had downloaded from the internet. The bench made it clear that the evidence brought on record must link the accused to terror. This implies that merely downloading content that the State finds inimical or politically objectionable cannot be used to keep people behind bars. Many cases merit a mention here but the crux of the issue is simply this: it is not feasible for the State to put anyone behind bars for merely downloading content. This offers a reprieve, however small, and gives elbow room to many activists and intellectuals who have faced the long arm of the law and have had to spend months behind bars — denied bail and even humane treatment in jail — on the grounds that their devices had literature and material that the State found objectionable. What the bench has brought out in stark relief is that this is as flimsy an argument as it could be to accuse anyone of terror or incarcerate them. The state — the police and their political bosses — must reflect now.

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