If there’s one person who is overjoyed by Tuesday’s Supreme Court order quashing Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, it’s none other than Shajan Skariah, editor of the online Malayalam portal “Marunadan Malayalee” — and one who has 22 cases registered against him under the now struck-down law.
Skariah told IANS that this news is probably the most exciting news that he has heard in the past seven years . “I was sitting at a police station in Kochi last morning (Monday) after a complaint was filed against me under 66A. The police official was hellbent on arresting me, but it was not until 6.30 p.m. that my advocate ensured that I was not arrested. The crime, according to the police, was that I did a story in my portal and it was about a politician,” said Skariah
He added that the apex court on Tuesday also revoked Section 118D of the Kerala Police Act, which was in force even before Section 66A of the IT Act came into effect. “Both these acts are more or less similar in nature,” said Skariah. He said he is going to be the biggest beneficiary of the apex court directive as he has 22 cases registered against him in various police stations across the state. “All these 22 cases have been registered under Section 66A (of the IT Act) and are for my news reports. This new directive from the apex court is the most exciting news for me in the past seven years. Now I know I do not have to appear in court in any of the cases that have been registered against me,” said Skariah.
The cases pertain to various news items that appeared in his portal and the complainants include bishops, politicians and even film stars hailing from the state. The Supreme Court on Tuesday quashed Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 holding that it was violative of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression. “Section 66A of the IT Act is struck down in its entirety,” said the apex court bench of Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman. The Constitution provides for liberty of thought, expression and belief. “In a democracy, these values have to be provided within the constitutional scheme.” The law (Section 66A) is vague in its entirety, said Justice Nariman pronouncing the judgment. “There is no nexus between public order and discussion or causing annoyance by dissemination of information. Curbs under Section 66A of the IT Act infringe on the public right to know.”
The apex court order came on a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 66A of the IT Act on the grounds of its vague and ambiguous nature, and it being misused by the law enforcing authorities. “Through this new directive, the online news media is going to get a huge boost. Till now the major lacuna was that online publishing would be charged under Section 66A for the same news that would only entail a defamation suit if it were to be printed in a newspaper or magazine,” said Skariah.