Mumbai

Freedom of speech and expression is not an absolute right, says Bombay High Court

A view of the Bombay High Court.   | Photo Credit: Vivek Bendre

The Bombay High Court on Friday said freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution is not an absolute right, and directed State not to take coercive steps against her for making derogatory comments on Twitter against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his son and Cabinet Minister Aditya Thackeray.

A Division Bench of Justices S.S. Shinde and M.S. Karnik was hearing a criminal petition filed by Sunaina Holey, 38, through advocate Abhinav Chandrachud, seeking to quash the FIRs filed against her.

She posted three separate tweets on three different occasions. One of it was in April, at the beginning of the lockdown, where she put up a video in which a person was blaming the Prime Minister for COVID-19 and tagged the Maharashtra CM to it. In the second tweet, she put up a caricature of both the PM and the CM. In the third tweet, she responded to an abusive tweet that asked how she, a north Indian, could criticise Ministers from Maharashtra, to which she had responded that it made no difference as she is an Indian.

She has been booked under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony); 499 (defamation); and 505 (statement conducing public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code.

Additional Public Prosecutor J. P. Yagnik told the court that despite notice being issued under Section 41A (notice of appearance before police officer) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, Ms. Holey had not appeared before the Investigating Officer and cooperated with the investigation.

To which Mr. Chandrachud said that she was apprehending arrest and had therefore not appeared at the police station. The court took on record Mr. Yagnik’s oral assurance that she would not be arrested at least for the next two weeks. The Bench allowed Ms. Holey to move if the police decided to take any coercive action against her.

Mr. Chandrachud argued that her tweets had become political and that Ms. Holey’s right under Article 19 (protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech) of the Indian Constitution were being breached. To which the court said, “Perhaps citizens are under the impression that freedom of speech and expression is an absolute right, without any restrictions.”

Mr. Chandrachud told the court that Ms. Holey would be present at the Azad Maidan Police Station on September 14 at 11 a.m. and before Tulinj Police Station on September 16 at 11 a.m., and would cooperate with the investigation.

The court directed the State to file its reply and will hear the matter on September 29.

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2020 11:17:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/freedom-of-speech-and-expression-is-not-an-absolute-right-bombay-hc/article32585335.ece

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