Jammu and Kashmir High Court refuses to quash FIR under UAPA for lawyer’s social media posts

Freedom of expression does not cover phrases like ‘slaves of India’, ‘military occupation’, says judge

April 27, 2022 07:43 pm | Updated April 28, 2022 07:21 am IST - Srinagar:

A policeman stands guard outside the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in Srinagar. File

A policeman stands guard outside the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in Srinagar. File | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Wednesday refused to quash a first information report (FIR) lodged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) against a lawyer for his social media posts. The court said lines such as “slaves of the Government of India” or “they [the people] are under occupation of armed forces of the country” are not protected by the right to freedom of expression. 

“The first post quoted indicates that the petitioner advocates that the people of Kashmir are slaves and it [J&K] is under occupation which is like a cancer...the petitioner is advocating that this part of the country is under the occupation of the Indian military. In my opinion, the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution cannot be stretched to such a limit as to allow a person to question the status of a part of the country or its people,” Justice Sanjay Dhar observed.

The judge held that by uploading these posts, the accused had “crossed the Lakshman Rekha”, which demarcates the freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution of India from the reasonable restrictions imposed on such freedom on the grounds of India’s sovereignty and integrity. 

“The intention of a person can be gathered from the words spoken or written, or other expressions. Therefore, the expressions used by the petitioner, who happens to be a law-knowing person, clearly show that he intended to advocate a particular ideology, which supports the claim of secession of Jammu & Kashmir, which is an integral part of India,” the judge held.

“Therefore, this is not a fit case where this court should exercise its power under Section 482 of Cr. P. C to quash the proceedings at this stage. Quashing the proceedings at this stage would amount to stifling a genuine prosecution, which is not permissible in view of the ratio laid down by the Supreme Court. Thus, there is no merit in this petition. The same is, accordingly, dismissed,” the court held. 

Muzamil Butt, the petitioner, had challenged the FIR No.187/2018 for offences under Section 13 of the UAPA registered with the police station at Kulgam. Mr. Butt made his remarks on Facebook on October 21, 2018 following an incident in which six civilians were killed and more than 60 injured in a blast at the site of a gun fight at Laroo village in Kulgam. The incident triggered outrage across Kashmir. According to the petitioner, the theme of his posts was that there had been negligence which had led to the killing of civilians, and that the Kulgam District Police and the local administration were principally responsible for it. 

However, Justice Dhar held that it was one thing to criticise the government for its negligence and express outrage on human rights violations “but it is quite another to advocate that the people of a particular part of the country are slaves” and “under military occupation”.

“By making these comments, he [the petitioner] is certainly advocating and supporting the claim that Jammu & Kashmir is not a part of India and that it is occupied by Indian military with the people having being reduced to the status of slaves. Thus, he is questioning the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country,” the judge said.

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