GRANTING BAIL to a Punjab resident who was booked for sedition after he went live on Facebook and allegedly criticised the functioning of the government during lockdown, the Punjab and Haryana High Court said, “In a democracy, every citizen has the right to voice his/her opinion freely and criticise the functioning of the government. However, the same should be done in a decent manner and unparliamentary language should not be adopted.”
The observation was made by the single bench of Justice Sudhir Mittal, while deciding the bail plea of Jasbir alias Jasvir Singh, a resident of Hoshiarpur, Punjab.
According to the FIR registered against Jasbir on April 14 this year, “the petitioner went live on Facebook and made statements against the unity and integrity of the nation. His statements were also aimed at causing communal disaffection. Thus, the aforementioned FIR was registered inter alia for offences of sedition, hurting religious sentiments and causing communal disaffection”.
The FIR was lodged at Tanda police station, Hoshiarpur district, under sections 115, 124-A, 153-A, 505 (2), 295, 188, 269, 270, 271, 506 of IPC, section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
Jasbir’s counsel, advocate Jasraj Singh, submitted before court that the petitioner has been in custody for over six months now. The chargesheet was presented on July 9 this year but charges have yet not been framed as the committal order has not been passed. Thus, the trial is not likely to be concluded at an early date. There is no other criminal case pending against the petitioner. Furthermore, an examination of the utterances made by the petitioner shows that the offences of sedition and inciting communal disaffection are not attracted, thus, the petitioner may be granted regular bail, the advocate stated.
Justice Mittal, after going through the transcript of the Facebook Live session of the petitioner, said, “It appears that the petitioner was unhappy with the lockdown imposed due to coronavirus and the way the pandemic was being handled by the Government of India as well as the Punjab government. Thus, he has criticised the functioning of the said governments. Definitely, intemperate and abusive language has been used against high officials of the governments as well as against the elected representatives, but the same does not amount to exciting disaffection towards the government established by law or to excite hatred against it. It also does not amount to inciting religious disaffection or disruption of communal harmony.”
“It is an expression of dissatisfaction with the functioning of the government and criticism of its policies. In a democracy, every citizen has a right to voice his/her opinion freely and criticise the functioning of the government. However, the same should be done in a decent manner and un-parliamentary language should not be adopted. At the same time, the State needs to be more tolerant and circumspect while invoking laws pertaining to sedition and religious disaffection. Current tendency to the contrary has been frowned upon by the Supreme Court,” read Justice Mittal’s order.
The HC thus ordered that Jasbir be released on regular bail on his furnishing bail and surety bonds to the satisfaction of the trial court/duty magistrate concerned, as he has been in custody for six months and 14 days and the trial is not likely to be concluded at an early date.