India’s government authorized the prosecution of 21 Internet firms including Facebook, Yahoo! and Google in a case over obscene content posted online.
The approval could lead to company directors being called to a trial court in New Delhi to answer serious charges such as fomenting religious hatred and spreading social discord, an official and a lawyer said.
A criminal case against the Web titans was first filed in a lower court by local journalist Vinay Rai who complained that the sites were responsible for obscene and offensive material posted by users.
He also claimed that they had broken laws designed to maintain religious harmony and “national integration” in India, serious offenses that require government approval to be admitted in court.
The Internet companies targeted have already filed a petition in the Delhi High Court seeking to have the lower court’s case against them stayed. The hearing of the petition is to resume on Monday.
Earlier Friday, the lower court ordered that summonses be served on the companies, including US giants Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and YouTube among 10-foreign-based ones.
The government’s sanction to prosecute represents an escalation of a recent tussle between social networks and the government, in particular Communications Minister Kapil Sibal.
The minister stressed that the government supported free speech and was against censorship but that some material on the Internet was so offensive that no one would find it acceptable.