The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has issued an order to The Caravan magazine, directing it to remove one of its stories, invoking Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. The magazine was reportedly told that if it fails to take down the article from its website within 24 hours, the entire website would be taken down. Section 69A of the IT Act grants the Indian government the authority to restrict access to information if it is deemed to threaten the sovereignty, integrity, defense, security, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, and other crucial aspects of the nation.
In response, The Caravan announced via X (formerly Twitter) that it intends to contest the order: “This is to inform readers we have received an order from the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting under Section 69A of the IT Act, directing us to take down this story in 24 hrs: https://caravanmagazine.in/crime/indian-army-torture-jammu-and-kashmir-poonch-bjp-gujjar-bakkerwal. The order’s content is confidential. We will be challenging this order.”
The story, written by Jatinder Kaur Tur and published on February 1 under the title “Screams from the Army Post,” delves into allegations of torture and killings by the Indian army in Jammu. It accuses the army of picking up 25 individuals from various villages in Rajouri and Poonch districts on December 22, subjecting them to torture across three different army posts, resulting in the deaths of three individuals.
The story goes on to allege that one of the soldiers “decided to take a video of the torture” and also that the army “paid blood money to the families of those tortured and killed”. It also alleges that the chief of the army’s Northern Command issued instructions to “all ranks below him” to categorise villages and populations as “black, grey, and white” and to treat them accordingly.
While the authority of the Electronics and IT Ministry to issue blocking orders stems from the Section 69A Blocking Rules of the Information Technology Act, the blocking powers of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) are derived from the IT Rules, 2021, and the November 2020 amendment to the Allocation of Business Rules. However, the extent of the I&B Ministry’s power to issue blocking orders is currently subject to ambiguity, partly due to stays imposed on certain rules under the IT Rules, 2021 by the Bombay and Madras High Courts.
Section 69A of the IT Act delineates six criteria, at least one of which must be met, for the IT Ministry to order the blocking of online content. These criteria include concerns related to India’s sovereignty and integrity, defense, state security, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, and the prevention of incitement of any cognizable offense pertaining to the aforementioned reasons.