Indian court orders Internet sites to remove content

New York, December 22, 2011–An Indian court has ordered 22 Internet sites to remove content it said promoted hatred and communal disharmony, according to news reports. 

On Wednesday, a civil court in Delhi ordered 22 websites–Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, and smaller ones like Orkut Blogspot, Topix, Exbii, Boardreader, and Zombietime–to remove content it deemed “anti-religious” or “antisocial,” news reports said. The court said the sites have until December 24 to comply with the ruling. 

The court ruling followed a complaint filed by Mufti Aijaz Qasmi, a Muslim cleric from Delhi, who said the sites’ content defamed the Prophet Mohammed, Hindu gods, and other religious figures, according to news reports. In the court ruling, Judge Mukesh Kumar said the content was derogatory to some religious communities, news reports said.

“A court order to take down information from a vast number of websites has large implications for freedom of expression in the world’s largest democracy,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program Coordinator. “The court must reverse its ruling, and allow people in India full access to global news and opinion on the websites.”

In a December 6 statement, Kapil Sibal, the minister of information technology and communication, said the ministry would begin closer regulation of Internet content, including the pre-screening of material on video-posting websites like YouTube, news reports said. Even though there has been a public backlash to government moves to restrict Web-based criticism, on Thursday Sibal met with 100 leaders of various religious groups who called the websites’ content “illegal” and urged him to take further action, news reports said.