Written by Rachel Mucha
The Bombay High Court on Thursday convicted activist Ketan Tirodkar of contempt of court after he criticised current and retired judges on his Facebook page. The court held that “modern technology and the state-of-the-art communication should not result in the abuse of the freedom of speech and expression” and specified that “this notice and the proceedings in furtherance thereof will serve as a stern warning to the users of social media”.
Tirodkar was sentenced to three months imprisonment and a fine of Rs 2,000 for contempt of court. A full bench, comprising Justice A S Oka, Justice S C Dharmadhikari and Justice R M Savant, was hearing a suo motu contempt petition against Tirodkar, alleging that on his Facebook page, he had accused sitting and retired judges of the court of “selling justice” at “rates which bail orders and anticipatory bail orders can be obtained”, and had termed some retired judges “middlemen”. He also reproached retired and sitting judges for being “land grabbers”.
The bench observed: “We would be failing in our duty if we do not deal with this and in the words of the Honourable Supreme Court itself, a flagrant onslaught on the independence of judiciary, destructive of the orderly administration of justice, and a challenge to the supremacy of the rule of law.” In their judgment, the bench also cited the court’s “duty to come down heavily on those who pollute the system” in order for it to properly “reach out to the people and ensure access to justice”.
“The public trust and confidence would be totally shaken if due cognizance of such publications is not taken and the person publishing the same is not proceeded against for contempt, that trust and confidence will erode even further,” the bench said. It added: “one cannot defame others in the name of freedom of speech and expression” on social media or otherwise. The bench in its judgment stated that “those familiar with modern scientific advancements in the field of telecommunication and information technology ought to be equally aware of the ill effects and adverse impact of social media”. The court added that if Tirodkar “feels that he can get away by such publication, he is sadly mistaken”.
It was noted by the court that Tirodkar has not disowned the post or disavowed its contents. The court said: “He has proceeded on the footing that the publication is attributable to him, but he seems to suggest that he had either a right to do so or, unmindful of the consequences of the legislation and its provisions.”
Tirodkar told the court on Thursday that he will challenge its order before the Supreme Court.