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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Merely expressing extreme or harsh point of view doesn’t make it hate speech, says Bombay High Court

The bench noted that the police have failed to show that the tweet led to disturbance of law and order or public order or peace and tranquility.

Written by Omkar Gokhale | Mumbai |
May 6, 2021 1:58:51 am
Bombay High Court, Maharashtra, hospital fire, Covid-19 treatment in Maharashtra, Mumbai news, indian expressThe Bombay High Court. (File)

The Bombay High Court on Wednesday allowed a plea filed by Navi Mumbai resident Sunaina Holey (39), seeking the quashing of an FIR lodged against her for her tweet on a gathering of migrant workers outside the Bandra station in Mumbai during the lockdown last April. The FIR was registered at Azad Maidan police station on April 15, last year.

The bench noted that the police have failed to show that the tweet led to disturbance of law and order or public order or peace and tranquility. “The right to express one’s views is a protected and cherished right in our democracy. Merely because the point of view of the petitioner is extreme or harsh will not make it a hate speech, as it is only expressing a different point of view,” it said.

A division bench of Justice S S Shinde and Justice M S Karnik had on January 7 reserved its judgment in the case, which was passed Wednesday. Holey has also filed pleas against being booked by the police for allegedly making offensive remarks on social media against the state government, CM Uddhav Thackeray and his son and minister Aaditya. The HC said it will decide on the pleas separately.

The bench noted that realising the sensitivity of the situation, as a large number of people had gathered near the Bandra station following rumours of train being available for them to return to their native places, the police had asked certain people to address the crowd to pacify them.

It added that while an unknown person made a video of said address, the same was retweeted by the petitioner, where she also made certain comments. The police went on to book Holey for seeking to create hatred and enmity between Hindus and Muslims by tweeting the video with “offensive message”.

Holey was booked under sections 505 (statements conducive to public mischief) and 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) of the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act. Advocate Abhinav Chandrachud, representing Holey, refuted claims that she spread communal enmity while arguing that merely having a large following on Twitter did not make his client a “professional tweeter”. He added that the petitioner was under no obligation to avoid a controversial or sensitive topic and even expressing an extreme opinion did not amount to “hate speech”.

Noting that Holey was merely expressing her opinion by criticising the member in the crowd who blamed the Prime Minister for the Covid-19 outbreak, the bench said that no offence was registered against the original author of the video that Holey retweeted.

“The concern of state police machinery to control the situation is justified, but the approach in registering FIR on the apprehension that comments made by her led to promoting hatred and enmity is too far fetched and remote,” the HC in its 62-page judgment said.

“The tweet in question is only expressing a hostile point of view. The respondent’s (police) approach towards the tweet is hypersensitive and over cautious, thereby trying to scent danger in the hostile point of view expressed by the petitioner.”

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