India's highest court has struck down a broad law that criminalized "offensive" comments posted online or sent by mobile phone. Net users celebrated Tuesday's ruling as a victory for free speech.
The controversial law had made it a criminal offense for posting content online or sending by mobile phone anything for the purpose of causing "annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, or insult," with offenders liable to a fine and up to three years in prison.
India's government said that the 2008 law was necessary to fight cybercrime, arguing that its potential for abuse should not be grounds to declare it unconstitutional.
But critics of the law pointed to cases where it was used for political purposes to silence dissent.
Widespread outcry followed a 2012 case when two young women were arrested under the act over a Facebook post criticizing the shutdown of the city of Mumbai after the death of a nationalist politician.
Political cartoonists mocking public figures had also fallen foul of the law known as Section 66A.
In a ruling read out on Tuesday, India's supreme court justices found the government's defense of the measure weak and complained that it was “clearly vague” on what it constitutes as criminally offensive.
"Section 66A is unconstitutional and we have no hesitation in striking it down," said Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, reading out the judgment.
"There is no nexus between public order and discussion or causing annoyance by dissemination of information," Justice Nariman was quoted later as saying by the IANS news agency.
The court's ruling followed a long campaign by free speech activists and industry which complained that the law was designed to stifle freedom of expression and innovation.
The Mobile Association of India, a trade body, hailed the ruling.
"This judgment will herald a new phase in the growth and evolution of the Internet in India," the group said in a statement.
jar/msh (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)