news Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 05:30

The News Minute | October 9.49 pm IST

The freedom of speech means little without the right to criticize. But is there a line you cannot cross in criticism?

British legislators certainly think so. Recently British television presenter, journalist and model Chloe Madeley received rape threats after her mother made some comments about a rape convict.

Chloe Madeley's mother Judy Finnigan commented that rapist footballer Ched Evans crime was not brutal as he had not been violent.

This resulted in her 27 year old daughter getting rape threats on Twitter. Some even telling Chloe Madeley, "Judy’s given me her blessing to rape you. Naturally, I have to acquire a paper bag first. It’s not to suffocate you with or to hide one’s identity, it’s to cover up your rat-like face with the humongous nose.’

Currently, under British law an online troll – a person who makes abusive comments – can be imprisoned for up to six months, fined up to 5,000 pounds or both.

But legislators are now considering imprisonment of up to two years for behavior that would not be permitted in person. According to The Independent, the British Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: “No one would permit such venom in person, so there should be no place for it on social media. That is why we are determined to quadruple the current six-month sentence.”

He also said: “This is a law to combat cruelty – and marks our determination to take a stand against a baying cyber-mob. We must send out a clear message: if you troll you risk being behind bars for two years.”

Indian trolls on the internet appear to be no different from their British counterparts. In July a Bangalore-based activist N Prabha was threatened with rape on Facebook by a man who commented on her status. He said: “(but) things will be all right if women like you are dragged by their hair and raped by rapists.”

Read: Man who called for woman to be "raped by rapists" on Facebook arrested by Bangalore police

Friends of the activist expressed outrage on Facebook and took the man to task. Although he deleted the comment, an image of it found its way to the page. He even apologized publicly, saying: “Prabha avare, I withdraw the statements I made in anger, unable to tolerate your criticism of Hindu dharma and the Brahmin community. I have no personal vested interests, or socio-political interests or hatred towards you or anyone else. It is true that I criticize those who insult our religion. But that does not mean it is hatred, it is only opposition to the statement. I am not someone who wished ill towards anyone. I beg you to forgive me.”

She later filed an FIR with the Bangalore police against the man.

There have been other instances to when people have complained about open threats online, but the debate about how much is 'freedom' in freedom of speech persists in India. In UK however, legislators seem to believe it is time to act.

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