The Delhi High Court today reserved its decision on AAP leader Raghav Chadha’s plea that he cannot be made to face a criminal case only for retweeting Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s tweet against Union Minister Arun Jaitley in the DDCA row.
Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal reserved her verdict in the matter after hearing over three-hour long arguments on behalf of Jaitley and Chadha on whether retweeting a tweet would make out an offence of defamation. The court also heard arguments on whether a retweet would amount to republication of a comment and if such matters would be covered under the Information and Technology (IT) Act. It had heard the arguments for nearly four hours yesterday also on these issues.
Chadha in his plea has sought setting aside of a trial court order summoning him as an accused in the criminal defamation case filed by Jaitley against him and five other AAP leaders, including Kejriwal. Apart from Chadha and Kejriwal, Kumar Vishwas, Ashutosh, Sanjay Singh and Deepak Bajpai are also accused in the criminal defamation case filed by the BJP leader.
Appearing for Jaitley, senior advocate Siddharth Luthra today argued that Chadha’s act of retweeting a tweet by Kejriwal amounted to republication. Besides this, he argued that the common intention of Chadha and others to defame his client was evident from their conduct, the timeline of their statements, their joint appearance at a press conference as well as their reiteration of assertions made by each other. Luthra also reiterated his earlier argument that the issue was not covered by the IT Act.
Senior advocate Anand Grover, appearing for Chadha, opposed the contentions made on behalf of Jaitley, saying that the issue fell under the purview of the IT Act as the complaint was based on electronic downloaded record, barring one news article. He also said in the instant case, it was open to the aggrieved party to move the intermediary, like Facebook or Twitter, where the objectionable content was put up, to get them removed. Grover also said that a retweet does not do anything extra with respect to circulation as the original tweet is already available to the world. He further said that retweeting does not amount to endorsing a tweet, to which the court asked, “Then what was the intent of retweeting? Passing time?”
Grover said tweets can be endorsed by ‘liking’ them and added that retweeting only amounted to sharing the tweet and not republication. He said if the original tweet is deleted, then the retweet would automatically go and added that this aspect was not considered by the magistrate before issuing the summons. The case came to the high court at the direction of the Supreme Court which had on September 15 directed it to decide by September 25, the AAP leader’s plea against the trial court’s summoning order.
The apex court had said the parties shall appear before the high court on September 18 with a copy of its order and the matter shall be argued on September 19. Chadha had alleged in his plea that he was made to face criminal defamation case only for retweeting Kejriwal’s tweet against Jaitley. He had moved the apex court against the high court’s July 11 order refusing to stay the lower court proceedings against him in the defamation matter and had posted his plea for hearing in October.
He had said in the plea that he had raised an important question of law before the high court as to whether the trial court could have summoned him without determining if the alleged defamatory statements, which were purportedly made through Twitter, were covered under the penal provision of defamation under the IPC.
Kejriwal and other AAP leaders are facing a criminal defamation suit after they claimed that Jaitley was allegedly involved in corrupt practices when he was the president of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), a post he had held from 2000 to 2013. Jaitley, who had denied all the allegations levelled by the AAP leaders in December 2015, had also filed a civil defamation suit seeking Rs 10 crore damages from Kejriwal and others, claiming they had made “false and defamatory” statements in the case involving DDCA, thereby harming his reputation.