Defamation / Reputation, Digital Rights, Hate Speech
Die Grünen v. Facebook Ireland Limited
In Progress Mixed Outcome
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The High Court of Allahabad rejected the Applicant’s plea to dismiss the Charge Sheet filed against him under Sections 295A of the Indian Penal Code and Section 67 of the IT Act. In this case, the Applicant had made derogatory remarks about “Maa Durga,” a Hindu deity, on the social media platform WhatsApp, causing offense to the sentiments of the Hindu community. The High Court emphasized that while the internet and social media provide a platform for freedom of expression, this right carries responsibilities. It does not grant citizens the liberty to speak without accountability or to use language without constraints. After a thorough examination of the First Information Report, the related allegations, and the evidence presented against the Applicant, the High Court determined that a valid and prosecutable offense had been established.
On October 8, 2021, a case was filed by Akhand Pratap Singh, the Complainant, against Dr. Shiv Sidharth (also known as Shiv Kumar Bharti), the Applicant, under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act. The Complainant accused the Applicant of making derogatory remarks about “Maa Durga,” a Hindu deity, on WhatsApp. These remarks allegedly offended the sentiments of the Hindu community, leading to resistance within the community. [para. 3]
Following an investigation, the Investigating Officer filed a charge sheet under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act. Section 295A of the IPC pertains to deliberate acts intended to outrage religious feelings, carrying a punishment of imprisonment up to three years, or a fine, or both. Subsequently, the Trial court summoned the Applicant on October 31, 2021. Before the trial began, the Applicant filed a petition before the Allahabad High Court to quash the Charge Sheet. [para. 3]
Justice Manju Rani Chauhan of the High Court of Allahabad delivered this order. The primary issue before the consideration of the High Court was whether the chargesheet filed against the applicant under sections 295A IPC and section 67 IT Act should be dismissed in light of his right to freedom of speech and expression.
The Applicant asserted his innocence, insisting that he was falsely accused in the ongoing case. He clarified that while he received the message in question, he neither sent nor forwarded it, emphasizing his incapability of such actions. The Applicant argued that the Akhand Pratap Singh, belonging to Hindu Vahini, had falsely framed them. Additionally, he contended that the elements of Section 67 of the Information Technology Act did not apply to the case, meaning no relevant offenses were committed. The Applicant criticized the lower court for its failure to recognize the absence of a prima facie case against them. He further argued that the proceedings initiated amounted to an abuse of the legal process, advocating for the quashing of the case due to the lack of substantiated evidence. [para. 4]
On the other hand, the Respondent-State contended that the Charge Sheet against the Applicant under Section 295A of the IPC and Section 67 of the I.T. Act was based on statements from Akhand Pratap Singh and several independent witnesses. The Investigating Officer, after examining WhatsApp messages from the Applicant’s recovered mobile phones, found that the allegations regarding the messages were true and were present in the Applicant’s WhatsApp chat. The State further contended that the Applicant had indeed received the message and forwarded it to other groups, admitting to the act. Consequently, the State contended that the offense under Section 67 of the I.T. Act was established, and the application should be dismissed. [para. 5]
The High Court first referred to Section 295A of the Penal Code and emphasized that Section 295A does not encompass all actions as punishable offenses related to insulting a religion or religious beliefs. Instead, it only penalizes deliberate and malicious attempts or acts intended to outrage the religious feelings of a specific class of citizens. Actions that inadvertently or carelessly insult religion, without any deliberate or malicious intent to outrage religious sentiments, do not fall within the purview of this section. [para 8]
Applying this principle to the present case, the court observed that “it is beyond the shadow of a doubt that social media is a global platform for the exchange of thoughts, opinions, and ideas. The internet and social media have become an important tool through which individuals can exercise their right to freedom of expression but the right to freedom of expression comes with its own set of special responsibilities and duties. It does not confer upon the citizens the right to speak without responsibility nor does it grant an unfettered license for every possible use of language.” [para. 9]
The High Court found that the Applicant admitted to receiving the message on WhatsApp and even expressed a willingness to seek forgiveness for forwarding it to other groups, indicating his acknowledgment of both actions. Upon scrutinizing the First Information Report and the evidence provided, the court determined that a valid offense had been established. The court noted that the investigating officer had conducted a comprehensive investigation, gathering substantial and credible evidence against the applicant, as evidenced in the charge sheet filed. [para. 10] In conclusion, the High Court dismissed the application seeking quashing of the Charge Sheet. [para. 12]
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
In the ruling, the Court acknowledged that social media is a global platform for exchanging thoughts, opinions, and ideas. It recognized that the internet and social media allow individuals to exercise their right to freedom of expression. However, the Court emphasized that the right to freedom of expression carried certain responsibilities and duties. It highlighted that this right did not grant unfettered or unrestricted use of language.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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