India: Is Forwarding Emails A Crime?

India's cyber law has been subjected to controversy because of its misuse. Moithu (47), a government employee from the Indian state of Kerala, got arrested for forwarding an email joke about the election debacle of the ruling CPM (Communist Party-Marxist) party to a few friends. In the recent local elections in Kerala state, the communist government in power received a major setback.

SimyNazareth informs:

In Kerala, an ordinary citizen, (Mr. Moithu) was arrested because he forwarded an email containing a poster. The poster had the picture of a popular politician (Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan) with a dialogue from an old Malayalam movie ‘Sandesham’. The alleged cyber crime was that Moithu edited out the part that mentioned “this is a joke” from the subject line, and forwarded this picture to his few friends through email.

Upon a direct complaint from Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan, who is the secretary of ruling CPM (Communist Party-Marxist) party, police were swift to act, and arrested Mr. Moithu. Hard disk of his computer was confiscated. He was released on bail, but the case proceedings are set to continue as of now, as there is no news that the complaint is withdrawn.

“What did I do wrong? all that I did was forward a comic email that came to my inbox”, contests Mr. Moithu. Apparently, the ruling party is not impressed. Many in the party are of the opinion that this cannot be treated as a joke, and has to be treated as libel.

Moithu, a resident of Kuttipuram in Malappuram District, had received the mail from Hamsa, a relative in Barcelona, who collected it from just4ajoke@ Moithu was charged under section 66(A) of the amended IT Act of 2008, which makes sending a “defamatory mail” punishable (imprisonment up to three years and a fine of INR 100,000).

Ignorantia Juris Non Excusat, however, defends the cyber cell's actions by asserting that Moithu had the duty to verify the facts before forwarding the email.

Kaippally comments:

Stifling criticism reflects the lack of confidence in leaderships. It is an indication of what our nation would become if left to the whims and fancies of 19th century communist leadership.

SimyNazareth adds:

The dangerous side of this legal action is that it scares cyber citizens into not forwarding any internet joke. Actions like this would lead to a situation where people will be scared to criticize politicians. According to amendments in Indian cyber law (2008), anything that causes annoyance or inconvenience to another person can be grounds for criminal proceedings. These clauses have been put to use in the above mentioned case. The implications of using this law for legal action from a leading politician is far reaching. One can only hope that other politicians does not emulate his model, and not use this law as a tool to suppress satire and dissent against them in Internet.

1 comment

  • The problem here is, everybody thinks “What did I do wrong?”; sadly, nobody thinks they too have a responsibility. Someone makes a cartoon, another one forwards it after editing a line, thus a mistake propagates. Editing the line “this is a joke” was a big mistake. Giving proper credit to the creator and mentioning the source could have saved the man. The fact that nobody controls the internet doesn’t necessarily mean anyone can go on to do anything he wants – specially, if it wrongly portrays an individual.

    I am not a supporter of the said political party; just want to mention that sometimes punishments do help correcting mistakes. It is better to be careful while writing about representatives of the public. They are no ordinary citizen after all. Decent criticism is always welcome.

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