Mamata’s morphed photo: SC pulls up Bengal govt for BJP leader’s overnight detention

Why was she kept behind bars despite May 14 order to release her immediately on bail, asks court; calls her arrest “prima facie arbitrary” in the first place

The Supreme Court on Wednesday pulled up the West Bengal government for keeping BJP Yuva Morcha leader Priyanka Sharma behind bars overnight despite the court’s May 14 order to release her immediately on bail.

A Vacation Bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and Sanjiv Khanna even threatened contempt action against the State government.

Ms. Sharma was arrested by the State Police and sent to 14 days of custody for allegedly posting a morphed image of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on social media.

The court called her arrest “prima facie arbitrary” in the first place. However, on May 14, while granting her bail, the Vacation Bench asked her to apologise for the “meme”. The apology was not a condition for her release, though.

‘Lawyers reprimanded’

Returning to court on Wednesday, senior advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul said the court’s order was not complied with by the State. Ms. Sharma was not released from jail on May 14. Her lawyers, who went to secure her release, were told off by the jail authorities. The latter asked them to either produce certified copies of the bail order or approach the local court for her release.

Counsel for West Bengal tried to placate the court, saying the jail authorities were merely following the jail manual. “A Supreme Court order for immediate release has precedence over a jail manual,” Justice Banerjee shot back at the lawyer.

Counsel then said Ms. Sharma was released at half-past nine on Wednesday. “Why? Our order was to release her immediately,” Justice Banerjee countered the lawyer.

The court asked Mr. Kaul to verify whether she has indeed been released. Mr. Kaul confirmed this to the court a short while later.

Closure report

Mr. Kaul informed the court that it had only now come to his side’s knowledge that the police had filed a closure report in the case of criminal defamation foisted against Ms. Sharma. The report was filed on May 13, but the information was not disclosed to the apex court by the State government during the May 14 bail hearing.

“Had it been known to the court that they had already filed a closure report, this court may not have asked her to apologise...” Mr. Kaul submitted. He said a separate application had been filed in this regard.

On Tuesday, the court said free speech, though non-negotiable, cannot step on the toes of another person's right.

The court also pointed to how Ms. Sharma was a rival political leader and the “meme” was shared in the thick of the Lok Sabha polls. At one point, Justice Banerjee said it “is wrong to put somebody's face onto some other's person.”

Ms. Sharma shared on Facebook a photo in which Ms. Banerjee’s face was photoshopped on to actor Priyanka Chopra’s picture from the MET Gala event in New York.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 9:13:43 PM |

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