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Date:17/01/12

India court summons top Internet execs over

India's communications ministry Friday sanctioned prosecution of Microsoft Corp., Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Facebook as well as 17 other companies over a complaint that their websites carry "unacceptable" content which could incite communal violence.

The clearance paved the way for an Indian court, which ordered top executives of these companies to appear before it March 13, to expand the case to cover charges such as inciting enmity among different groups and deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings. Such charges need the federal government's clearance for a court proceed with the trial.

The court order came on a complaint from an individual, Vinay Rai, who wants the companies to be prosecuted for alleged offenses such as criminal conspiracy, defamation, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and race and obscene content, among others.
Some of the charges, if proved, carry an imprisonment of up to seven years and may be combined with a financial penalty.
The development comes amid a push by the Indian government to force major Internet companies to filter out content such as doctored images of political leaders and religiously sensitive material.

In December, Communications Minister Kapil Sibal objected to "unacceptable" online content, saying companies such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook have ignored India's demands to screen images and data before they are uploaded.

In a statement, Google said the company has filed a separate case in the Delhi High Court, challenging the trial court's move to go ahead with the criminal proceedings, and declined to comment on the order on issuing summons to executives.

Facebook didn't offer any immediate comments, while Microsoft and Yahoo weren't reachable.
In a separate case late December, a court had ordered 21 social networking websites--including of Facebook, Google and Yahoo--to remove all "objectionable content" such as "anti-religious" or "anti-social" content by Feb. 6.

India's moves to impose restrictions on Internet content have been criticized by civil rights advocates, who say these rules amount to a crackdown on free speech on the Web.
 
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