Ashfaq Masoodi, Asian Age Correspondent
New Delhi, 14 January 2012. The Centre on Friday granted sanction to a Delhi court to prosecute 21 top Internet companies, including social networking site Facebook, search engine Google and Yahoo!, for offences which include promoting enmity between classes and causing prejudice to national integration, saying there was sufficient material to proceed against them.
The court listed the matter for further hearing on March 13, and directed the accused to appear in person.
Sources said the move could lead to the directors of these Internet companies to be summoned to the trial court in New Delhi to answer serious charges, and could have a chilling effect on the use of the Internet in India.
The court directed the external affairs ministry to ensure that the summons were served to the companies based outside India.
A two-page report by the department of information technology was placed in the court of metropolitan magistrate Sudesh Kumar a day after the Delhi high court expressed its determination to act. “You must have a stringent check. Otherwise, like in China, we may pass orders banning all such websites,” it said.
The report said: “The sanctioning authority has personally gone through the entire records and materials… He is satisfied there is sufficient material to proceed against the accused under Sections 153-A, 153-B and 295-A IPC.”
Earlier, on December 23, the court had issued summons to 21 websites for alleged criminal conspiracy, sale of obscene books and sale of obscene objects to young persons, but these had remained unserved on companies based outside India.
It had said prima facie the companies were liable to be summoned for promoting enmity between classes, causing prejudice to national integration and insulting religion or religious belief of any class, but it could not summon them without the prior sanction of the government.
The Internet companies targeted have filed a petition in the Delhi high court seeking to have the lower court’s case stayed. The hearing is to resume on Monday.