Notice to Google, Facebook on church plea

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday issued a notice to search giant Google and social networking website Facebook after a plea filed by a church denomination and a Christian NGO.

The joint plea demanded the removal of "defamatory and derogatory" articles of Gospel for Asia and Believers Church on the internet.

It alleged that there were malicious contents with intent to defame and destroy the reputation of entire organisation (church) including it founder Bishop Dr K P Yohannan and Rev Fr Daniel Varghese, Diocesan Secretary of the church.

"Certain persons with vested interest are continuously trying to malign the reputation of the organisation by uploading defamatory contents on internet," stated the complaint.

"The Google and other intermediaries are liable to restrict these contents as per Section 79 (3)(a) of the Information Technology Act."

Advocate Deepak Prakash, appearing for the petitioners, further said different government agencies had verified and appreciated the work of the organisation on different occasions and there was no negative remark about them from any corner.

Replying to the complainant, Justice Valmiki Mehta sought replies from Google India and Facebook by January 7, 2013.

Yohannan is the founder and international director of Gospel for Asia, a Christian mission organisation. He also founded the Believers Church which has presence in over 17 countries.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to scrap Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 in the wake of its alleged misuse.

Section 66A of the IT Act reads: "Any person who sends by any means of a computer resource...any information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character; or any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult...shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine."

Delhi student Shreya Singhal in her plea said "the phraseology of Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 is so wide and vague and incapable of being judged on objective standards, that it is susceptible to wanton abuse and hence falls foul of Article 14, 19 (1)(a) and Article 21 of the Constitution."

She has submitted that "unless there is judicial sanction as a prerequisite to the setting into motion the criminal law with respect to freedom of speech and expression, the law as it stands is highly susceptible to abuse and for muzzling free speech in the country."

In its notice to the Maharashtra government, the court sought explanation from the state government on the recent arrest of two girls from Palghar for posting comments on Facebook questioning Mumbai's shutdown on Bal Thackeray's funeral.

"We were wondering why no one was approaching the court and were thinking of taking suo motu notice of the incident," said a bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice J Chelameswar.