On April 11, the Gujarat High Court dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) suit filed by the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) which challenged the ban on PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), one of the most popular online multiplayer games in the world.

Hearing the IFF’s petition, the two judge bench observed that they were “not satisfied that the scope of the present writ petition falls under the ambit of Public Interest Litigation”. It has a user base of almost 400 million worldwide, and up to hundred players can play simultaneously. Meanwhile in a separate PIL petition seeking a ban against PUBG, The Bombay High Court has issued a direction to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) to assess and review online game PUBG and take an action if any “objectionable content” is found.

Gujarat HC order: Petition argues ban violates Article 19

During March, following a letter from the home department, several police departments of Gujarat issued notifications of banning PUBG based on the orders of Commissioners under Section 144 of the CrPC. The orders were issued on the ground that it results in violent behaviour amongst youngsters and affects their studies. According to several reports, teenagers who were found playing this online game were arrested under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code.

IFF’s petition argues that the ban is arbitrary and violates Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. According to IFF’s petition, the ban is a disproportionate invasion of privacy due to the following grounds as it does not serve any of the legitimate purposes mentioned in Section 144 CrPC, and persons arrested for playing the game are not engaging in any violent or aggressive behaviour.

The ban, which carries the threat of arrests and criminal prosecution, is “patently unsuitable method of promoting psychological, social and educational well-being of adolescents and young adults… Further, there is no evidence to suggest that the negative effects of PUBG are severe enough to endanger human life or health.”

The petition further challenges the ban as infringing several freedoms guaranteed under Article 19: This is based on the grounds that PUBG provides in-game text and voice chat feature which are used by players to form “meaningful bonds through team play and recreation. Therefore, the ban on game violates players the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a). PUBG being a team game, played in public places in large groups and teams, the petition contends that such ban denies players the right to peacefully assemble in public spaces guaranteed by Article 19(1)(b). Lastly, there are “professional PUBG competitions” that are held at world stage and “award large cash prizes” and hence is “a source of livelihood for individuals”. The ban violates the right to practice any profession or occupation under Article 19(1)(g).

Arbitrary application of S.144 of CrPC: The petition further contends that the order of the police is in excess of its powers and is arbitrary under Section 144 of CrPC. The ban is arbitrary as it “cannot be invoked merely based on the remote possibility of a threat”. The banning order is a form of “moral panic” based on unverified data showing ill effects of PUBG.

The IFF previously before the filing of this petition, on 14th March 2019, has also issued an appeal in public for revoking the Section 144 orders and cease criminal prosecutions following the ban.

The Gujarat HC did not agree with the submissions of IFF and rejected the PIL. However, the HC has mentioned that the individuals who have been arrested for playing PUBG may approach the High Court themselves. According to IFF, they have anticipated such a concern in their petition and has noted that “young college students who have been arrested may not have the resources and support to withstand protracted litigation against the Police department”.

The Bombay HC order

Hearing a PIL seeking a ban on PUBG in schools, Bombay HC has directed the Secretary of the IT Ministry to review and assess the game and take action against the service providers if any objectionable content is found.

The PIL filed by 11-year old Ahad Nizam, represented by his father, contends that the popular online multiplayer game promotes immoral conduct such as “violence, murder, aggression, looting, gaming addiction and cyberbullying”, thus should be banned. The PIL seeks directions to be issued to the State Education Department to ban PUBG in schools forthwith. It also sought directions to be issued to the Ministry of Electronics and IT, Government of India to form an Online Ethics Review Committee to monitor such content from time to time.

The Court has adjourned the case and posted it for hearing after vacations.

Disclaimer: MediaNama Founder and Editor Nikhil Pahwa was part of the founding team of the IFF.