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Porn case: eBay's India boss denied bail

By HARBAKSH SINGH NANDA, United Press International

NEW DELHI, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- A 2.37-minute clip of a sexual act shot by a New Delhi teenager along with his classmate has unleashed a serious debate over India's cyber laws, and the arrest of eBay's India unit chief for the public auction of the clip may deter foreign investment in India.

India-born U.S. citizen Avnish Bajaj, CEO of U.S-based auction portal eBay's Indian subsidiary, Baazee.com, has been sent to judicial custody until Dec. 24. He is lodged in New Delhi's infamous Tihar Jail along with about 70 other prisoners accused of crimes ranging from pick-pocketing and rape to murder.

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Harvard-educated Bajaj sleeps on the floor with a bed sheet in a country that boasts of inviting billions of dollars worth of foreign investment in its fledging IT sector.

"But since Bajaj is a U.S. citizen, he is allowed to meet with his embassy staff between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays. It's a facility we provide to all foreigners," a jail official told The Times of India.

U.S. Embassy officials say they are keeping a very close eye on the entire case and were concerned about Bajaj's health and wellbeing inside the jail.

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"Washington is following the case really closely. We are giving it top priority and utmost importance," The Times quoted a spokeswoman of the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.

Bajaj was arrested Friday on charges of online trading in pornography.

An Indian college student had offered a MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) clip of two other students indulging in an oral sex act for sale on the auction site. The company said eBay removed the clip auction from its site the moment it learned of its contents, but a judge in the Indian capital ruled out bail for Bajaj, saying: "The investigation of the case is still in progress, and the offense alleged does not warrant grant of bail to the accused."

The MMS clip shot on a mobile phone was not actually shown on Baazee.com but rather punted by Ravi Raj Singh, 23, an engineering student. The clip featured two students from the prestigious Delhi Public School.

Police have arrested Singh, Bajaj and the unnamed 17-year-old male student who made the clip along with his classmate.

eBay, which bought Baazee.com in August for $50 million, said it is outraged by the arrest of its top executive. "We are outraged that Bajaj, who had voluntarily traveled to New Delhi to further cooperate with the police on this case, was arrested and sent into judicial custody without bail until Dec. 24," a statement by eBay said.

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"The arrest was unexpected and completely unwarranted. It is unfortunate that local law enforcement has chosen to misdirect its energies towards Bajaj. eBay is working to secure Bajaj's release from jail as soon as possible," the statement said.

If convicted of online trading of pornography, Bajaj faces a possible jail term of up to five years and a fine of $2,300 under India's Information Technology Act.

But the incident involving Baazee.com CEO marks a watershed for cyber crime and the means of fighting it in India.

"This is a wake-up call," said Vijay Mukhi, who runs the e-security initiative of the National Association of Software and Service Companies, the country's apex information technology body.

"This one incident has told us that we cannot afford to ignore cyber crime and that it reaches every part of our society," Mukhi told Indo Asian News Service.

"It is a shame that Bajaj was arrested under the pretext of investigation, despite his

full-fledged cooperation to the police," NASSCOM chief Kiran Karnik said.

"He is a well-known and respected personality in the industry. What was the need to arrest and jail him like a criminal?"

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry said IT law clauses relating to transmission of obscene material through electronic media should be changed.

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"The IT act needs to be rethought. This has many ramifications. To arrest the CEO who was cooperating in the investigations without a proper notice or charge sheet is highly irregular. This is not how things would be done in the U.S," Ficci Secretary General Amit Mitra said.

The information technology industry said such actions could send wrong signals to foreign investors.

Many say the problem is with the law, the IT Act of 2000. "There have always been loopholes in the IT Act, 2000. This has left ample scope for its abuse," cyber law expert Pavan Duggal said.

Just over a month-and-a-half ago, two 11th-grade students from Delhi Public School filmed themselves on the boy's mobile phone during an oral sex act "just for kicks."

When the boy and the girl broke up a few days later, the boy allegedly started sending the clip to other classmates in the school. The film clip soon traveled across the country and also overseas and was hosted on several Web sites before police swung into action.

Video CDs and DVDs of the 2.37-minute clip sold like hot cakes across the country.

But despite the arrest of the CEO of the Internet auction house, the clip of teenaged students of Delhi Public High School is being peddled in Indian cities at a premium.

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