The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on Thursday quashed the FIR registered by Melapalayam police in Tirunelveli against YouTuber Maridhas. He was booked for linking the Tablighi Jamaat’s conference held in Delhi last year to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Delhi and other parts of the country.
Melapalayam police had booked Maridhas based on a complaint lodged by the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam functionary Mohammed Khader Meeran. The YouTuber was booked under various Sections of the Indian Penal Code.
The complainant said that Maridhas had linked the Tablighi Jamaat’s conference held in Delhi last year to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Delhi and other parts of the country and had called it a new form of terrorism. The petitioner denied the allegations levelled against him.
Justice G.R. Swaminathan noted that the complainant had come across the video posted on Maridhas’s YouTube channel last year. According to the complainant, the petitioner had referred to Islam and participation of muslims in Tablighi Jamaat in an offensive manner so as to create ill will between communities.
The petitioner attempted to sow negative seeds in the minds of the people about Islam. As a result, a few others had also released intimidating and threatening videos. Following this the petitioner lodged a complaint and an FIR was registered.
Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram submitted that a person watching the offending video would definitely develop ill feelings towards Muslims. It is not necessary that the video should be viewed as a whole. Even if some stray sentences or lines occurring in the speech have the potential to create ill will, penal provisions would be attracted.
Further, the AG pointed out that the FIR was registered in 2020 and the petitioner was granted anticipatory bail. But, he did not choose to surrender or submit sureties which clearly shows the respect the petitioner has for the court. The anticipatory bail stood vacated. He was arrested and police custody was sought. The Jurisdictional Magistrate was seized of the matter. The Investigation was at an early stage and ought not to be scuttled, he said.
The counsel representing the de facto complainant said that lakhs of people had watched the video and the offence of promoting enmity was made out. Maridhas had not chosen to delete the offending video and had repeatedly referred to Islam, terrorism and Corona in the video. The video definitely poisoned the minds of the people, he said. The counsel for the petitioner contended that there was no ill feeling towards anyone.
Quashing the FIR, Justice G.R. Swaminathan said the petitioner in his video had only spoken about the possible calamitous effects that might strike the nation on account of the incident. By no stretch of imagination this can be called as grossly indecent or scurrilous.
At no point of time in his speech the petitioner questioned the religious beliefs of the Muslims. The judge was of the view that the attack was only on the “irresponsible conduct” of the Tablighi attendees of the congregation.
According to the judge, the petitioner did not pit the Muslims against non-Muslims. A careful reading of the speech in the video would indicate that the petitioner felt alarmed by the incident. The incident also came under bitter and sharp criticism from the entire media. Those were the earlier days of the pandemic and even a slightly exaggerated reaction also can be accepted.
The intention of the petitioner should be taken note of. The judge said the YouTuber had only called upon the attendees of the congregation to go to hospitals and have themselves checked. The government also resorted to contact tracing. Sharp criticism of an organisation cannot attract the provisions, the judge said and quashed the FIR registered against the YouTuber.