The Supreme Court of India [website] upheld [judgment, PDF] a set of defamation laws Friday, finding them to be constitutionally valid. The laws were challenged by opposing politicians as an impediment on free speech. The ruling recognized a legitimate interest of the state to restrict free speech to protect from “defamatory or libelous speech or expression,” saying “[t]here is a correlative duty not to interfere with the liberty of others.” The court emphasized the relationship between free speech and the reputation of each individual, holding that the criminal penalties imposed by the defamation laws are an appropriate tool to uphold the value of an individual’s reputation.
India is one of many countries that have struggled to balance citizens’ internationally recognized rights to free speech with domestic and international security concerns. Last August India after widespread international criticism, ordered Internet service providers [JURIST report] to allow access to the 857 previously banned pornography and humor websites provided they did not include child pornography. Earlier last year India’s Supreme Court struck down [judgment, PDF] a law that gave authorities the power to jail people for offensive online posts. That ruling was welcomed and commended [JURIST report] by Prime Minister Narendra Modi [official website]. Last May JURIST guest columnist Roy Gutterman noted [JURIST op-ed] that many countries throughout the world not only still have, but also actively enforce sedition laws. India’s own sedition laws, although rarely upheld, result in instant imprisonment for violations.