Internet giants Google and Facebook have told an Indian court that it is not possible to block offensive content that appears on their websites, in a case that underscores a clash over free speech in the world’s most populous democracy.

At the heart of the dispute is a law passed in India last year that makes companies responsible for user content posted on their websites, requiring them to take it down within 36 hours in case of a complaint.

Lawyers for Google and Facebook told the court Monday that they already remove content deemed to contravene laws in the countries in which they operate.

But, they argued, the companies were not responsible for material posted by users on their platforms.

Civil rights groups in India have opposed the new laws. But politicians say that posting offensive material in the socially conservative country, which has a history of violence between religious groups, presents a danger to the public as Internet use grows.

The hearing will continue on Thursday.

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