In a fillip for free speech on social media, the Supreme Court on Wednesday quashed FIRs registered by the Bengaluru Traffic Police for criminal intimidation against a couple for posting adverse comments on its Facebook page.
A bench of Justices V. Gopala Gowda and R. Banumathi quashed the criminal prosecution against the couple in their judgment, observing that they were well within their rights to air their grievances in a public forum like Facebook.
“The page created by the traffic police on the Facebook was a forum for the public to put forth their grievances. In our considered view, the appellants might have posted the comment online under the bona fide belief that it was within the permissible limits,” the 10-page judgment observed.
‘End to harassment’
“The police sought to suppress free speech by intimidating us with serious charges...this judgment will have a larger impact. We had the resources to get our charges squashed, but many will find it hard to counter police harassment. I hope this will be an example to stop intimidation by the police,” said Manik Taneja, the petitioner.
On June 14, 2013, Manik Taneja and his wife Sakshi Jawa, were booked by the police under charges of using ‘assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging his duty’ (Section 353 of the Indian Penal Code) and criminal intimidation (IPC 506).
The previous day, the couple were driving in their car, when they collided with an autorickshaw, resulting in a passenger being injured.
Though they had paid due compensation to the injured, Ms. Jawa – who had driven the car – was summoned to Pulakeshi Nagar Traffic police station where the police had allegedly misbehaved with her.
The couple then vent their anger on the police’s Facebook page, and even sent an email complaining about the alleged harassment to the police.
The police reacted by lodging a criminal complaint against the couple.
The Karnataka High Court had refused to intervene when the couple approached it for relief, following which they had moved the Supreme Court.
This judgment comes even as another bench of the Supreme Court is hearing the legality of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which prescribes arrest and three years imprisonment for social media comments considered to be of a “menacing character” by the authorities.
‘We had the resources to get our charges squashed, but many will find it hard to counter police harassment’