Google and Facebook have removed web pages deemed offensive to Indian political and religious leaders, in compliance with an Indian court directive issued during an ongoing civil lawsuit against top web firms.
The California-based Internet giants are among 22 companies, including Yahoo! and Orkut, who have come under intense Indian government pressure to remove images, video or text considered “anti-religious” or “anti-social.”
The civil case being heard today in Delhi was brought by a private Muslim citizen, Mufti Aizaz Arshad Kazmi, who claims that the firms are hosting material intolerant of religious communities which could trigger communal unrest in India, the Wall Street Journal reported.
According to the BBC, Google and Facebook told the court they had complied with an earlier order by a Delhi district court judge to remove certain material. In a statement, Google said: “This step is in accordance with Google’s longstanding policy of responding to court orders.”
The firm did not specify which items it had removed. Facebook India said that it also had filed its compliance report. A criminal case of similar allegations, brought by Hindu journalist Vinay Rai, is due to be heard in March, with top executives summoned to appear before the court.
According to the Associated Press, Indian officials were infuriated by online material insulting to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi, and religious groups.
Some illustrations depict Singh and Gandhi in compromising positions, and pigs running through Mecca, the holiest city in Islam.
“There is no question of any censorship,” Junior Communications Minister Sachin Pilot said. “They all have to operate within the laws of our country… [and] there must be responsible behavior on both sides.”
Despite the firms’ protestations that it is impossible to pre-filter material, and their argument that no action should be taken against them, the Delhi court today insisted that all 22 companies provide a written reply within 15 days detailing the removal of the “offensive” material, according to Reuters.
In an earlier court hearing, Google’s lawyer NK Kaul, said that the case concerned “a constitutional issue of freedom of speech and expression, and suppressing it was not possible as the right to freedom of speech in democratic India separates us from a totalitarian regime like China.”