Supreme Court: The vacation bench of Indira Banerjee and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ has termed the arrest of BJP’s youth wing leader for allegedly posting morphed image of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on social media as “prima facie arbitrary” and has pulled up the West Bengal government for the delay in releasing her.
The Court was informed by the counsel of activist Priyanka Sharma’s brother that she was not released from jail on Tuesday despite the Court’s order granting her bail and ordering her immediate release. However, the counsel for West Bengal government informed the bench that she has been released from jail at 9:40 am today. On this the Court said,
“Why 9:40 am today? The order was passed in your presence,”
When the state’s counsel referred to the jail manual, the bench shot back,
“Jail manual can’t have precedence over an order of the Supreme Court. … No. This is not done. First of all the arrest was prima facie arbitrary,”
Senior advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, appearing for Priyanka’s brother Rajib Sharma who filed the plea in the Court, told the bench that despite the Court’s Tuesday order granting her bail she had to spend another night behind the bars. He told the bench that jail authorities Tuesday told them that they have to either bring certified copies of the Court’s order or approach the court of the chief judicial magistrate concerned for her release.
“If she is not released, the consequences will follow,”
The bench said it will issue contempt to officials concerned if Sharma was not released from jail immediately.
“She should be released from jail within half an hour,” the bench said.
Priyanka Sharma was arrested on May 10 by the police under section 500 (defamation) of the IPC and under other provisions of the Information Technology Act on a complaint of a local Trinamool Congress leader Vibhas Hazra. She was sent to 14-day judicial custody by a trial court there.
The Court, which initially said Sharma’s apology will be a bail condition, later clarified that it will not be a condition for bail but she should apologise for sharing the post at the time of her release.
The Court had also sought response from West Bengal government on whether a person can be arrested for sharing a post or meme on social media and posted the matter for further hearing after the summer vacation.
On Monday, Sharma’s counsel had mentioned the matter in the top court for urgent hearing, saying Sharma was forced to move the apex court as there was a complete strike in local courts till May 14 in Howrah and moreover, she had been remanded in 14-day judicial custody by a Howrah court on May 11.
Section 500 of the Penal Code (IPC) entails punishment for defamation with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
Sharma had allegedly shared on Facebook the photo in which Banerjee’s face has been photo-shopped on to actor Priyanka Chopra’s picture from the MET Gala event in New York.
Her arrest was followed by protests from the BJP and other social media users.