The Bombay High Court on Thursday said that in a democracy citizens are free to express their views, but they have to ensure that while exercising their right they don’t violate someone else’s constitutional rights.
The court also observed that criticism of persons holding public posts has become rampant on social media, adding that such persons should have the capacity to bear it. However, it added that citizens should also exercise restraint to the extent that the dignity of the post is not abused.
A division bench of Justice S S Shinde and Justice M S Karnik was hearing a plea filed by 32-year-old Nagpur resident Sameet Rakesh Thakkar, through advocate Abhinav Chandrachud, seeking to quash an FIR filed registered against him over his tweets against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his son and minister Aaditya Thackeray. Thakkar had also sought interim protection from arrest, pending hearing in the case.
Thakkar was booked on July 13 under sections 292 (punishment for obscene acts or words in public), 500 (punishment for defamation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and provisions of Information Technology Act.
When Chandrachud sought relief for his client, the court said, “Sometimes the tweets are abusive. The rights of your client cannot violate someone else’s constitutional rights. Responsible citizens should know they have rights, but to what extent?”
Justice Shinde said, “Everyone knows these rights are not absolute. Sometimes if criticism is fair then the person who occupies public office should have the capacity to bear it. But criticism can’t be unfair, abusive. Citizens must restrain themselves to ensure someone else’s rights are not violated because of this abusive language.”
Justice Shinde added, “Now it has become very easy to start criticising through social media posts. People now think they can get publicity if they post something against the PM or CM and think it is the easiest way to get publicity. Even the judiciary is not an exception.”
After Chandrachud argued that people in power should develop ‘thick skin’ while reacting to criticism, Justice Shinde said, “It is not just up to the individual holding post of PM or CM. The dignity of public offices should also be maintained by citizens.”
The court accepted the state government’s oral assurance that the man will not be arrested till further hearing on October 8, if he cooperated with the probe and attended the police station for questioning. The court asked Thakkar to appear before police on October 5.
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