AAP leader Raghav Chadha today told the Delhi High Court that he cannot be made to face a criminal case only for retweeting Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s tweet against Union Minister Arun Jaitley, claiming that a retweet does not make out the offence of defamation.
Chadha’s counsel 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 others. Senior advocate Anand Grover, appearing for Chadha, said the whole complaint was based on electronic downloaded record, barring one news article, and the offence of defamation under the IPC was not made out.
If it is electronic record, it would be covered under the Information and Technology Act, he contended.
Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing for Jaitley, opposed the contention saying that defamatory remarks are not covered under the IT Act and have to be booked under the IPC. “They (AAP leaders) left no stone unturned to embarass and defame my client (Jaitley). They acted in concert,” he said.
The arguments, which were advanced for nearly four hours, remained inconclusive and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal would continue hearing the matter tomorrow. Chadha’s counsel also argued that a retweet taken from an original tweet does not cause publication under section 499 (defamation) of the IPC.
On the other hand, Luthra said when a person retweets or re-publishes a comment, it is there for the world at large to see. Publication is a proof of oral statement as well as its circulation and retweeting means reiteration of a comment, which is liable, he said. He said Chadha made alleged “defamatory” statements at a press conference, besides retweeting Kejriwal’s comment.
Grover said the AAP leaders — Raghav Chadha, Kumar Vishwas, Ashutosh, Sanjay Singh and Deepak Bajpai — have been roped in the case under for the offence of common intention, which is not attracted in a case like this. “Trial court did not deal with the issue whether tweeting or retweeting amounts to publication at all,” he said. 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’s counsel had said the high court had listed the matter for hearing in October and not stayed the proceedings going on before the trial court. Jaitley’s counsel had questioned Chadha’s move to approach the apex court against the high court’s order.
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.
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