Gag order arbitrary, say legal experts

Restricting employees from engaging in political discussions or sharing their opinion on government policies on social media sites is “arbitrary” and a “ploy to choke people’s views” on issues confronting Jammu and Kashmir, legal experts said on Tuesday, soon after the government issued guidelines for use of social media by its employees.
Gag order arbitrary, say legal experts
Representational Pic

Restricting employees from engaging in political discussions or sharing their opinion on government policies on social media sites is "arbitrary" and a "ploy to choke people's views" on issues confronting Jammu and Kashmir, legal experts said on Tuesday, soon after the government issued guidelines for use of social media by its employees.

"As a permanent resident of J&K an employee is entitled to freedom of speech and expression. He too can have opinion on certain issues confronting our society and when he does so he acts as a citizen of the state and not as a public servant," said noted lawyer Zaffar Shah.

The guidelines notified by the government caution employees not to engage in discussion on social media by way of tweets, status updates, posts or blogs which are political in nature or on "contentious issues violative of applicable service conduct rules and have potential to create governance or law and order issues or are seen to propagate anything which is anti-social, anti-national or illegal."

While Zaffar Shah said that an employee is governed by service rules, he said that it was important to see the extent, scope and content of the restrictions imposed by the government and whether they were "legitimate."

"This kind of provision (guidelines) is absolutely ambiguous. This doesn't explain what contentious issue is and what political issue is. As a citizen of the state an employee does have right to express his opinion," said Shah. "These (guidelines) are highly ambiguous and can be vulnerable to challenge."

An official in the state law department said that there was no denying that employees were governed by service rules. "But issuing a diktat to restrict an employee from expressing his opinion is unacceptable," he said, insisting not to be named as he was not authorised to speak to media. "This is simply curbing freedom to have an opinion and to express it."

However, another law department official said that an employee is entitled to have public opinion subject to service conduct rules.

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