The Supreme Court vacation bench Tuesday ordered the immediate release of BJP worker Priyanka Sharma, who was arrested for sharing a morphed image of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on social media. A bench comprising of Justices Indira Banerjee and Sanjiv Khanna had modified their earlier order which said Sharma’s release would be subject to her tendering a written apology. The bench had later dropped the condition and said she would have to apologise following her release.
Appearing for Sharma, Senior advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul had argued against the order saying it will have a chilling effect on freedom of speech. Kaul called her arrest a gross violation of her constitutional rights and also told the bench that the court’s direction may now be misused for arresting people for posting memes till they tender an apology.
Kaul also said that Sharma deleted the post before she was arrested and that the meme went viral and she was not the only one who had shared it.
Justice Sanjiv Khanna said the court would not have directed apology if it has been a common man who shared the meme. “When it’s a political worker doing it, the insinuation has a different meaning,” he said.
Sharma, who is Howrah district club cell convener of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), was arrested on May 10 for sharing a picture of actor Priyanka Chopra with her husband Nick Jonas at the red carpet of an event in New York, with Banerjee’s face superimposed on the actor’s. The image is no longer on Sharma’s Facebook timeline.
Police said they acted on the basis of complaint filed by TMC leader Vibhas Hazra, she was charged under Section 500 of the IPC (defamation), and Sections 66A (offensive messages) and the non-bailable 67A (punishment for publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act, etc., in electronic form) of the Information Technology Act.
On May 11, she was produced before a court in Howrah which remanded her in judicial custody for 14 days.