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The Supreme Court has taken strong exception to arrests of individuals under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act even after it was struck down by the Court in 2015 and said anyone who continues with the arrests will be sent to jail.

It has sought a reply from the centre on a plea moved by PUCL. The apex court had 2015 struck down the concerned section of the Information Technology Act that prescribed a three-year jail term for online content that could be construed to be offensive or false, holding that this provision violates the constitutional freedom of speech and expression.

But authorities across the country continue to arrest and detain citizens under the draconian provisions of Act. Until it was read down, Section 66A, made it an offense to send “any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages”.

But a petition before the Supreme Court on Monday said people were still being prosecuted under the dead cyber law. The PUCL petition claimed that as many as 22 people had been prosecuted under the now dead cyber law ever since it was struck down by the Supreme Court. “If what they allege is correct, then you people will face severe strictures,” said Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman. “We will send everyone to jail who ordered the arrests. We are going to take very strict action,” the judge said.

The bench, led by Justice Nariman, has given the Centre four weeks to file a response.

In its 2015 judgment, the court had observed that the section “arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invades the right of free speech”. That verdict too had been passed by Justice Nariman.

—India Legal Bureau

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