FPJ Legal | ‘New IT rules are an assault on free speech’: News portal Leaflet tells Bombay HC

A legal news portal, on Thursday, told the Bombay high court that the new Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 was an assault on the fundamental right to free speech of citizens.

Representing the portal The Leaflet, senior counsel Darius Khambatta to the bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni that the new IT rules had a very “chilling effect” on free speech.

Apart from Leaflet, senior journalist Nikhil Wagle also moved the HC stating that the new IT rules are arbitrary and illegal.

The petitioners further argued that the new amendments were against the right to equality, free speech and even the right to carry out business of your choice.

“The IT act was brought in to give legal recognition to etransaction. But now with these amendments, a code of conduct has been introduced,” Khambatta said, adding, “Now the new rules compel us, even media professionals, to subscribe to the code of conduct. If we fail to do so, we can face prosecution.”

“Isn’t this infringement of our fundamental right to free speech and expression?” Khambatta argued. At this, Justice Kulkarni pointed out that the Union government has already moved an application before the Supreme Court, seeking to transfer all the petitions filed in various high courts challenging the new rules to the top court.

Additional solicitor general Anil Singh told the bench that the application is likely to be heard by the apex court on Friday morning. “There are some 10 such petitions. So we filed the application,” he told the judges. The bench decided to take up the matter after the SC hearing and adjourned it till July 16.

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