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Police use UAPA to block website campaigning against draft environment rules, later claim error

The Delhi Police on Thursday claimed that they had erroneously sent notices under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities Prevention Act to environmental non-governmental organisations, NDTV reported. The police said these notices have now been withdrawn, and fresh ones have been sent under the Information Technology Act, 2000. However, the websites of the NGOs remain blocked.

Earlier this month, the Delhi Police had issued a notice to the domain hosts of the India arm of Fridays For Future, the international movement led by climate change activist Greta Thunberg, to take action against the website for allegedly sending multiple emails about the Environmental Impact Assessment, 2020 – a draft law that environmental NGOs have opposed – to Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar. The Cyber Crime cell of the Delhi Police used the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to justify its order.

Notice having reference of section 18 of UAPA

The notice was issued on July 8, but was made public only on Thursday. The website of Fridays For Future India has been blocked along with websites of two other environmental groups. The other websites are letindiabreathe.in and thereisnoearthb.in.

The police, in an email, told Endurance Domains Technology LLP that the “unlawful activities” on https://www.fridaysforfuture.in/ may “disturb the peace and sovereignty” of India. It asked the domain hosts to block the website immediately.

The notice to the domain hosts of fridaysforfuture.in claimed that the website “depicts objectionable contents and unlawful activities or terrorist act, which are dangerous for the peace, tranquility and sovereignty of the India”. “The publication and transmission of such objectionable contents is a cognizable and punishable criminal offence under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

The Delhi Police told Endurance Domains Technology LLP that it is an intermediary in the case because it is the Internet Service Provider. They claimed that the Fridays For Future website being accessed through the ISP contains material that spreads religious hatred, which can be charged under the Information Technology Act, 2000, in addition to UAPA.

“It is requested that you may take necessary action (block above said domains/websites) in this regard and send us a report immediately,” the Delhi Police said.

Fridays For Future denies spamming Javadekar with emails

Fridays for Future India made a representation to Delhi Police Cyber Crime Unit Deputy Commissioner Anyesh Roy on Wednesday, Firstpost reported on Thursday. The representation said that the Delhi High Court had in its July 8 order underscored the “need for extensive consultation and publicity regarding this process [the draft law]”.

Fridays For Future India also denied sending any mails to Javadekar. “FFF India did not actually send any emails, and only provided content to help other concerned persons draft their own representations,” the representation said. “A basic scrutiny would show that no emails were ever sent from the FFF Website but from private email addresses of concerned citizens of India.”

The organisation also expressed shock over their websites being blocked under the UAPA. “It beggars belief that in the world’s largest representative democracy, merely facilitating citizens in asking questions of their elected representatives can be termed as an objectionable activity and facilitating religious hatred,” it said.

Roy told Firstpost that the notice was “inadvertent”. “There is no charge of UAPA,” he said. “Notice was issued under a section that was not appropriate to the matter. And it was immediately withdrawn, and we sent a notice under the relevant section of 66 under IT Act.” Roy claimed that it was not the Delhi Police’s fault that the website of Fridays For Future India remained inaccessible.

But a volunteer with the NGO said it had not received any second notice. “The domain owner said there has been no communication since the 8 July notice,” M Yuwan told the news website.

The Environmental Impact Assessment, 2020

At the heart of the controversy is the Environmental Impact Assessment, 2020, which incorporates amendments to the 2006 version of the law. The environment ministry had put the draft law in the public domain on March 12 for a period of 60 days for discussion and feedback. On June 30, the Delhi High Court extended the deadline to provide public response to the draft to August 11, as the ministry was unwilling to extend it.

The petition filed in the High Court, based on which it extended the time for public feedback, had said that the proposed new law does away with the requirement for public consultation for a number of projects.

Earlier on Thursday, Fridays For Future International issued a statement on its Facebook page, condemning the blocking of its India website. “Fridays For Future India calls upon the government to unblock the website and let the youth of India continue to fight for climate justice for the sake of democracy, their wellbeing and their future,” it said.

The website of Let India Breathe was also taken down because a flurry of letters, allegedly over 1,000, were sent to Javadekar against the proposed amendment.

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