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Man faces 3 years in prison for tweeting about finance minister in India (thehindu.com)
167 points by ashray on Nov 1, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 81 comments

Everybody on this thread is focusing (possibly rightly) on the issue of how badly drafted the law is and how broad it is. What people in the forum might not appreciate is how completely the Police in India is under the thumb of of the politically connected and the Rich. Having stayed in India for the last 5 years, the modern version of the Police force is a very scary to behold.

Imagine that this is the result of an EMAIL from the son of the Union minister. In India even in very serious cases involving common people such as Murder, Arson, Rape etc the police always make a show of waiting for a WRITTEN compliant before they can even start investigation. The politicians cynically abuse the Police force to openly stifle dissent and hassle the common man - India is descending into a Banana republic at an alarming speed - very sad.

India is descending into a Banana republic at an alarming speed - very sad.

To be fair, India is rising up from it; used to be a lot worse.

India is already a banana republic.

The problem is that out of the 3 main bodies in any country - politicians, bureaucrats, and the armed forces - India has always had a nexus amongst the first two. Although this is much better than politicians+armed forces, it still is a problem. I won't go so far to say that we are descending into a Banana republic as yet; but if the alarming rate at which income inequality is growing right now is not checked, then yes that day wont be far.

India's Police system and the laws such as Criminal Procedure Laws were formulated by British. The objective was to keep citizens completely depended on goodwill of police and politicians to be free and safe. The exact same laws have continued.

I for one think that if the law was drafted "properly", there is very little police can do about it even if the ministers (who supposedly use them) are pissed off and want the police to do something about it.

Such cases happen even in USA, where certain people are charged for misdemeanor's which are not uniformly enforced across the population. An example I can think of is the Eliot Spitzer-Call Girl in DC scandal.

Just to clarify, Spitzer escaped prosecution for hiring prostitutes. However, he personally prosecuted many people for prostitution.


(I read your wording as implying Spitzer was subjected to harsher treatment than normal, so thought the clarification was helpful.)

...if the law was drafted "properly", there is very little police can do about it even if the ministers (who supposedly use them) are pissed off and want the police to do something about it.

That doesn't fit in with the nature of gov't corruption or politics.

These actions usually have hidden agendas that are instigated and planned at the party level. At the risk of oversimplifying, while one member sees the law made, another one acts on it.

As a European, it can sometimes be hard to appreciate America's guarantees of free speech, especially as you only really ever hear about the "negative" aspects of it - Citizens United, for example.

But more and more it seems that countries that have nominally vibrant democracies are making certain types of speech criminal - I wonder if there'll be a groundswell of activism to get free speech retroactively enshrined as a right in countries where such a thing never really seemed needed before.

Citizens United often gets brought up when people over here talk about limiting political speech, but one thing I like to remind people is that: 1) Citizens United was about a movie criticizing a Presidential candidate--the exact kind of political speech that should be most protected; 2) the Soliciter General put his foot in his mouth in the most terrible way when he basically admitted that the law would allow book banning.

I also like to point out that in the very next term the Supreme Court struck down California's violent video game law, which was widely lauded by liberals even though had Citizens United gone the other way, Rockstar Games would have no free speech rights to raise in that case.

Free speech really is the real deal here, and I find it upsetting how much flak the Supreme Court has gotten for staying true to their line of decisions. This is a Supreme Court that in the midst of Vietnam protected a protestor who said that if the government ever made him carry a rifle (to go to war), the first person in his sights would be President Johnson.

The problem with the Citizens United ruling was that it was broader than necessary, so it became about more than just a movie.

The idea that foreign governments can secretly fund a massive Presidential campaign does not strike me as the intention of the First Amendment.

How, specifically, was the ruling too broad?

Re: secret funding of campaigns, it seems to me the real problem isn't that people can freely run political ads. The real problem is $1bn+ corporations. People should be lobbying to get rid of corporate limited liability, which would make it impossible for corporations to get so large and powerful in the first place.

You seem to be getting down-voted. Sorry to see that.

My understanding is that SCOTUS could have OK'ed the particular instance (the film "Hillary") without broadly declaring money == speech and providing cover for PACs and super-PACs to keep their list of contributors secret.

I tried to find some links to backup/illuminate this, but I could not, and I may be wrong in my understanding of the actual details of the ruling.

Regarding corporations: My problem is not their size, but that money yields such political influence.

I loath the idea of limiting speech (modulo falsely yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater, etc.) but when I read that the best predictor of election outcomes is looking at who spent the most money, I despair.

The best way I can come to terms with one possible solution is to consider that accepting democracy means you're already accepting assorted restrictions on your behavior. The idea of having to make your donors public in political speech, while distasteful, seems a reasonable way to help combat (or reduce) the influence of big money.

Given the nature of mass media and how people get information it's hard to have a properly functioning democracy when people are bombarded with propaganda, and attempts to counter that propaganda (even with other propaganda) require vast finances.

At the very least let people spend as much as they want on political ads but make the source of that money is public.

Citizens United didn't decide that money == speech. That was decided in a much earlier case called Buckley v. Valeo (1976).

The movie was paid speech - it was a commercial.

A commercial or advertisement is defined as something that "poses nothing more than a commercial transaction." E.g. "Buy this iPad it's great!"

There is no way to shoe-horn "Hilary: The Movie" into the "just a commercial" mold. Here are a list of other movies produced by Citizens United: "ACLU: At War with America" (this one is ironic); "Broken Promises: The UN at 60"; "Rediscovering God in America." Now, you might not like the organization's political message, but I don't see a principled way to distinguish them from some of my Sierra Club favorites like "Coal Country" and "Oil on Ice."

What is "paid speech" even supposed to mean? What movies don't cost money to make? Or for that matter books or pamphlets or newspapers? Both Citizens United and the Sierra Club are not-for-profit corporations. They are created for the express purpose of getting out a particular message, and that costs money. Their message should not be taken out of the protection of the First Amendment just because of that fact.

It should be noted that Grand Theft Auto not only cost money, but it was a for-profit product...

It's not about money, it's about the paper trail. Who's responsible? Who is spending the money? Who is donating the money?

These are basic things that need to be made obvious.

Buy all the ads you want, it's fine with me. As long as I know you are the one buying the ads.

The right to anonymous speech is something we hold pretty dear here in the US. It goes back all the way to the anonymous publishing of the Federalist Papers.

Who cares who bought the ads? Do you use that as a basis for evaluating their truth?

In the case of corporate sponsored speech? You bet I do. And "truth" isn't the problem so much as bias. You can state the exact same true fact 50 different ways and spin it to mean almost anything you want.

I've looked all through the First Amendment, and I don't see any exceptions for "paid speech." Help me out?


There's a difference and you know it.

Commercial speech has to do with the content of the speech, not the motivations behind speaking.

If I have a statement: "hats are on sale 50% off tomorrow" that is commercial speech. I can tell on it's face that it's commercial, without knowing anything about who spoke it.

If I have a statement: "Hilary Clinton is a terrible candidate for such and such reasons" that is not commercial speech. It does not, on it's face, propose a commercial transaction. Now, someone might have commercial reasons for disliking Hilary Clinton, but the motivation behind speech is irrelevant to whether it is considered to be within the "commercial speech" exception.

This is why music, movies, and video games are all fully protected despite the fact that they are for-profit commerical products. It's the content of the speech, not the motivations for speaking that define speech as commercial or not.

So your local politicians raise their right hand and swear to uphold Wikipedia? I can see some room for abuse there.

> As a European, it can sometimes be hard to appreciate America's guarantees of free speech

As a European, it's hard NOT to appreciate America's guarantees of free speech, especially as limits on it only seem to have negative effects like silencing criticism of government and powerful public figures, quelling reports of corruption, and penalising beliefs unpopular among current political elite.

Their guarantees include not just the fifth amendment but also little bits like truth being an absolute defence against libel, and courts unwilling to chase the smallest slip-ups in their race to convict for libel. And as much as American seem to get offended over what other people say, their government is not imprisoning historians telling wacky stories, or chasing memorabilia.

I don't know if there's a groundswell, but people in the UK are certainly talking about it.

In particular the libel laws here are utterly crazy, frequently you'll see two Americans, or two Russians, suing each other in UK courts over things printed or put up on the internet in their respective countries. Nothing to do with the UK really, but because there is no 1st amendment, and the courts consider it their jurisdiction if the material was ever available over here, they go for it.

And because most countries have agreements on collecting money owed due to lawsuits, a judgement in the UK (where it's easy to get one) can affect the defendant wherever they are. I believe that this sort of things is starting to be recognised and the US (possibly Obama himself) have put an exception on their legal reciprocity - UK libel judgements don't count in the US any more.

This recently came up in the world of gaming: http://penny-arcade.com/report/editorial-article/mcvs-lauren...

Of course, it's easy to appreciate free speech when it is done by people you sympathize with. It's much harder to do it in case where it's done by people you disagree with. That's why US has First Amendment and that's why, so far, the Supreme Court was very reluctant to allow any restrictions, even in case where political pressure is massive - such as the CU case. Unfortunately, the executive branch is not as adamant in protecting the Constitution as the SCOTUS are - see the recent case of Hillary Clinton promising to arrest and prosecute the maker of the infamous "Innocence of Muslims" flick.

It is by now a demonstrable fact that free speech restrictions are a slippery slope. You start with the laws that prohibit "bad" speech or political speech by "bad" people - and voila, in short time you get bloggers arrested and filmmakers jailed because somebody powerful didn't like what they said. The law is always written against "bad" people, but whoever gets to enforce it may have very different definitions of "bad" than you do.

Strongly agree. The fact that in most European countries, there's some freedom of speech, apparently makes it much easier for legislators to add some things to the taboo list here and there, and for the public to suck it up. In the US, where freedom of speech is a much more absolute right, it is also much easier to defend.

What do you (guys) think of Julian Assange?

What an arcane law!

Section 66-A deals with messages sent via computer or communication devices which may be “grossly offensive,” have “menacing character,” or even cause “annoyance or inconvenience.” For offences under the section, a person can be fined and jailed up to three years.

If you cause "annoyance" or "inconvenience" to someone, you can be fined or jailed up to three years!

Edit - He has also clarified that he has just cited media reports and not made any new revelation. He just has 16 followers on Twitter. His arrest has got more to do with his involvement with IAC(India against Corruption) than anything else.

>>If you cause "annoyance" or "inconvenience" to someone, you can be fined or jailed up to three years!

This doesn't even begin to describe ridiculous. Ever heard of IPC 498a?

For those who don't what it is- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dowry_law_in_India

The law is such, you might even repent being a born a boy in India.

  (a) Any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive
  the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life,
  limb or health whether mental or physical) of the woman; or

  (b) Harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing
  her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any
  property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any
  person related to her meet such demand.[8]
Could you elaborate on your objections to the above? I am not familiar with its use or misuse.

If they apply it as is, I don't have a issue. The law is misused heavily. According to the law you can be incarcerated for at least 60 days, just on a complain. In other words you can be arrested just because a women complains, even if no evidence is found, or they don't even have to ask for evidence. The presumption of guilt prevails. You are presumed to be a offender. This law has been often used for near extortion scenarios. It works like this, since it covers the women of the husbands family. Often younger sister of the husband is arrested or his mother is arrested. He will be called to police station to part away his with his property, and generally the arrests are made on Friday's so that these people can stay in jail over the weekend until a bail application can be filed on Monday.

Women are heavily abusing this law for money. Its like marry a guy, slap a 498a case. Get his family members behind bars(Often happens after bribing the policemen). In India its highly devastating to a persons morale, self respect and social status for him to go to jail or see female members of the family go to jail. Then what follows is a black mail and guy is forced to pay up.

The law has been abused by the police and some women so much. From what I've heard, the judges look at every case like it might be fake. Read the Wikipedia link for details.

Some more links on this.

Given the abuse the supreme court of India itself has recommend dilution of this law.

To be fair, the majority of men are pretty barbaric and do physically abuse women after marriage. They totally deserve a law like that. I have heard so many stories of brides getting physically and emotionally abused by their in-laws and husband that I pretty much consider it a part of our culture.

We are not debating about offenders here. We are debating about the abuse of law used to extort money from innocent people.

Yes and I am putting forward a use of the law to deter offenders who happen to exist in large numbers. Domestic Violence is a serious problem in India and a law like this does help.

From the same Wiki page

    IPC 304B assumes that if an accidental death of a wife  happens within seven years of marriage, it is to be assumed to be murder unless the husband can prove his innocence.    


It might also be useful to give some background on how such a law came to be passed.

India is fourth most dangerous place in the world for women. It is only a little better than war-ravaged Afghanistan and Congo.


Women are/were heavily oppressed in India, especially with regards to marriage. Girls and her parents are/were often forced to give a lot of dowry to get their girls married.

There have been cases of dowry death, where women have been burned alive for not bringing in dowry. Couple by general backwardness and other kind of torture. This draconian law was passed.

Of course their intention was good. But the law has be abused so badly, now even the true victims of dowry are suffering due to it.

> If you cause "annoyance" or "inconvenience" to someone, you can be fined or jailed up to three years!

Only if you do it via electronic communication. Books, leaflets, etc have no corresponding laws.

If that is the extent of the law, then what is lacking is the concept of intent.

Section 66-A deals with messages sent via computer or communication devices which may be “grossly offensive,” have “menacing character,” or even cause “annoyance or inconvenience.”

Sounds similar to the laws we have here in the UK. Section 127(2) of the Communications Act 2003 [1] states:

(2)A person is guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he— (a)sends by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that he knows to be false, (b)causes such a message to be sent; or (c)persistently makes use of a public electronic communications network.

The act allows for imprisonment for up to six months, or a fine. It was the legal basis for the "Twitter Joke" trial [2]. In my opinion it is worryingly broad in its scope.

[1] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/21/section/127

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter_Joke_Trial

Great speech from Rowan Atkinson about this.


Thanks for posting this. http://reformsection5.org.uk/ Looks interesting.

This case, especially in the context of Rowan Atkinson's very eloquent speech, illustrates clearly why it is the West that has to set the standards for free speech.

By contrast, given what the UK has done in the past around Internet speech, the Indian case does not look unreasonable!

This law may be too broad as well, but it's not nearly as bad as the Indian one. "a message that he knows to be false" is a pretty important limitation of what the law applies to. Mr. Srinivasan would probably not have been charged under the UK version of the law.

Certain sections of Indian laws and its constitution were blindly lifted from UK's laws and its constitution.

But not, presumably, those pertaining to electronic communications.

The UK has an unwritten constitution...

Sad, and typical.

I have lived in India for the last 3 years and at first I was angry, then disgusted, but now it's just sadness.

To see a country with so much potential throw themselves into such a quagmire of ridiculousness stirs my soul to mutiny!

There is a culture of corruption, and this article just highlights one of thousands of daily acts of corruption that happen on macro and micro scales.

India needs a cultural revolution, someone to suck the apathy out of the people and make them demand responsibility from their leaders.

> India needs a cultural revolution, someone to suck the apathy out of the people and make them demand responsibility from their leaders.

The problem is that it's difficult to have a good democracy when you have low levels of human development. When 25% of the population is illiterate, a good number more lack a basic education, and half the children are malnourished, it's very difficult to get your average person on the street to care enough to make the right decision when election time rolls around.

It's like the difference between a group of college students electing their teacher and a kindergarten electing their teacher.

There is something like that underway currently and the guy who was arrested for tweeting was part of it - India Against Corruption(http://www.indiaagainstcorruption.org/). Like every common Indian, they have my support and money and when time comes I am willing to take it to the streets as well.

The litmus test will be, how much interest it can get from people beyond big cities.

Actually there was a time in the past two years, where a street revolution was inevitable. Especially last year and this year, both during Anna Hazare's fast.

But some how they couldn't hold on and fire died soon. Last year the fever was really high.

A radical change is not gonna happen with any fire or so that you mention. The path to achieve it is what Mr. Kejriwal is doing right now, and the time to get there will be the next decade or so. You think a street revolution is gonna help India right now, or a structured approach with a long-term vision..

When the corrupt politicians take anti-democratic action like this one against the free speech, people en masse should repeat the same act in defiance. At least, all the Indians living outside should do it.

This is going to be interesting actually. Article 19 of the Indian constitution grants right to freedom of speech.

    *All citizens shall have the right* —
    to freedom of speech and expression;
    to assemble peaceably and without arms;
    to form associations or unions;
    to move freely throughout the territory of India;
    to reside and settle in any part of the territory of      India; and
    to practise any profession, or to carry on any    occupation, trade or business.

    *These rights are limited so as not to effect*:
    The integrity of India
    The security of the State
    Friendly relations with foreign States
    Public order
    Decency or morality
    Contempt of court
    Defamation or incitement to an offence

Their aim is not to send him to prison, but to trouble him and give him so many hassles with police and courts that he finally gives up.

By that way, they get to 'teach him the lesson' and 'make him example' to deter others from doing it.

> By that way, they get to 'teach him the lesson' and 'make him example' to deter others from doing it.

I think it's going to back fire as it has done in the recent past.

That is exact point, the ruling party trying to do. Because most of the internet is flooding with articles against this govt.

That has enough loopholes to drive a small dictatorship through, though.

Reminds me heavily of our Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera (Bolivia) going on record saying:

"I'm reading every negative post on Facebook that speaks ill of the government and writing down names. Names are being written down."

What horseshit! Scary thought; North Americans seem to take their free-speech for granted, as an inalienable right when in fact many countries in the world don't have such a thing. Enjoy it while you can.

Your should be thankful to God that you live in America.

God had nothing to do with anything. We only have our First Amendment protections because some Americans believed in them strongly enough to die and/or kill for them.

Sad and proves once again that India has no freedom of speech.

Great article on the topic by Amit Varma.

Don't Insult Pasta: http://indiauncut.com/iublog/article/dont-insult-pasta/

One of the most impressing thing about USA is that they have true freedom of speech and majority of people defend it furiously. I can't help but think but this is one of the major factor America is one of the leading nations in the world.

India is not a country, where constitution works for Common man You have to have money power, muscle power and much more to use the rights give by constitution of India.

Most of the peoples always try to not to go to judiciary in whole life, because it will take your whole life time to get the results and you have to pour all your income, time in visiting dates of trial. No one -common people- believe the law and are realized it and get used to it. There are millions of cased pending in courts which are more than 70 60 yrs old and I feel the British rule was much better than this.

may i get punished to say all this, though this is the case with everyone and anything can happen with anyone.

India also has a law against “deliberately hurting religious feelings,” which was exploited recently[1] by the Catholic Church.

[1] http://lee-phillips.org/IndiaNoDemocracy/

There is now a "Campaign Against Arrest of Ravi Srinivasan for a Tweet" [0]. This issue is getting a lot of attention in the international media too [1].

[0] http://getup4change.org/rti/support-free-speech/ [1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/10/31...

Here's an article in NYT that gives you insight into the Indian Justice System:


And here's an example of an organization fighting for justice against state crimes:


The tweet was not even about the finance minister (Mr. Chidambaram) but about the finance minister's son (Karthi Chidambaram)

Yeah I got confused by the article because it mentioned something about the tweets being about P Chidambaram.

Other such tweets reportedly made references to Mr. P. Chidambaram.

The fact that the tweet is about an even more low profile guy (although he IS the son of said finance minister) makes this even worse.

“If you write a book that annoys or inconveniences me, even deliberately, I have no civil or criminal recourse. But if you send an e-mail message, or post a tweet, you could face three years in jail,” says Mr. Prakash. “That’s higher than the two-year imprisonment for causing death by negligence.”

That's when you start looking for tweets that promote the book...


According to the article, he had 16 followers as of Wednesday evening. Now he has 869 and growing.

Great work, Mr. Politico, you would get along fabulously with Barbra Streisand.

"Diverse society is bound to fail" --Robert Putnam. http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2007/08/05/t...

Campaign Against Arrest of Ravi Srinivasan for a Tweet http://getup4change.org/rti/support-free-speech/

does anyone have any ideas on what we could do to help this person?

Follow him on Twitter, use a hash tag (#SupportRaviSrinivasan or whatever), if you are outside India, tweet to your local/national news papers. Or just bomb @KartiPC with your complaints.

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