Case BriefsHigh Courts

Meghalaya High Court: W. Diengdoh, J., while refusing to quash a criminal case against a journalist as the Facebook post shared by the journalist sought to create a divide to the cordial relationship between the tribal and non-tribal living in the State of Meghalaya.

Genesis of the instant matter is with regard to an incident that occurred in the month of July 2020 wherein a group of boys while playing basketball were attacked by 20-25 unidentified youths.

Police in light of the above incident registered a criminal case under Sections 326, 307, 506 and 34 of Penal Code, 1860. Investigation in view od the said event is already in progress.

Petitioner who is a journalist responded to the said incident by posting her comments on Facebook, echoing her stance against such brutal attacks meted out to non-tribal in the State and the ordeal faced by them since the past several decades. In the said post, a query was also made to respondent 3 on their obligatory role of keeping vigil at the place of occurrence and their required assistance for apprehending the culprits.

Further, the petitioner submitted that the statements made were general in nature and were made in good faith without any criminal intent or mens rea.

Respondents 4 and 5 filed a complaint against the petitioner alleging that the said Facebook post of the petitioner incited communal tension between tribal and non-tribal and defamed not only the respondent 3 but the entire village for which offence under Section 153A, 505 and 499 of Penal Code, 1860 are made out.

Police registered a criminal case under Section 153 A, 500, 505C IPC against the petitioner and issued a notice under Section 41 A CrPC requiring the petitioner to appear before the investigation officer.

Aggrieved with the above complaint, the petitioner approached the Court with an application under Section 482 CrPC.

Analysis and Decision

In Court’s opinion, what is first required to be established is whether any case is made out under Section 153 A IPC following which the issue is dispute can be decided accordingly.

Section 153 A IPC:

“[153A. Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony. – (1) Whoever-

(a)  by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible grounds of religion, race place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, or

(b)  commits any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquility, (or)

(c)  organizes any exercise, movement, drill or other similar activity intending that the participants in such activity shall use or be trained to use criminal force or violence or knowing it to be likely that the participants in such activity will use or be trained to use criminal force or violence, or participates in such activity intending to use or be trained to use criminal force or violence or knowing it to be likely that the participants in such activity will use or be trained to use criminal force or violence, against any religious, racial, language or regional group or cast or community and such activity for any reason whatsoever causes or is likely to cause fear or alarm or a feeling of insecurity amongst members of such religious, racial, language or regional group or caste or community,]

shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both”.

Bench on a cursory observation of the Facebook post noticed that the author has referred to the incident which took place at the Basketball Court.

Court stated that in the said post,

There is a distinct portrayal of an alleged skirmish between two groups, one, group allegedly consisting of tribal youths and the other group consisting of non-tribal youths.

Court further observed,

What can be deduced is that there is an attempt to make a comparison between the tribals and non-tribals vis-a-vis their rights and security and the alleged tipping of the balance in favour of one community over the other.

In view of the above deduction, Court opined that the same would fall on the mischief of Section 153 A IPC as it apparently seeks to promote disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between two communities.

Supreme Court’s decision in Babu Rao v. State, (1980) 2 SCC 402 was cited wherein it was observed that,

“…It is seen that S. 153 A (1) (a) is not confined to the promotion of feelings of enmity etc. on grounds of religion only as argued by Shri Sen, but takes in promotion of such feelings on other grounds as well such as race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community….”

Bench stated that in the instant matter, it can be said that the said Facebook post sought to create a divide to the cordial relationship between the tribal and non-tribal living in the State of Meghalaya even alluding to the role of the State machinery as being bias in this regard.

Hence, the Court held that prima facie it appears that a case under Section 153 A IPC is made out against the petitioner.

Court refrained from going into the merits of the provision of Sections 500 ad 505 IPC, however, the said provisions read conjointly with Section 153A IPC would attract the provision of Section 155 (4) of CrPC.

No merit was found in the instant petition for exercising powers under Section 482 CrPC.[Patricia Mukhim v. State of Meghalaya, 2020 SCC OnLine Megh 167, decided on 10-11-2020]

Counsel for the petitioner: Advocate K. Paul.

For Respondents: N.D. Chullai, AAG with R. Colney, G.A for Respondent 1 and 2.

P.L. Khonsngi for Respondent 3-5.

Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

Jharkhand High Court: Rongon Mukhopadhyay J., rejected anticipatory bail to the ground in light of facts and submissions in the instant case.

The facts of the case are such that the petitioner who is a government employee wrote derogatory remarks in a Facebook post regarding a woman of Malaysian origin which was further circulated on Whatsapp prompting comments targeting a single community. The petitioner apprehends his arrest in connection with the instant case and seeks anticipatory bail before the Court.

The petitioner was represented by Advocate Kumar Amit and the respondent was represented by A.P.P Ruby Pandey.

Court observed that the man being a government employee took a screenshot of his Facebook post and he himself circulated that on Whatsapp group inciting derogatory remarks against a particular community. The allegations leveled are serious in nature and the fact that it was done by a government employee makes the entire incident all the more grave.

Hence the court held that in light of the aforesaid facts and observations petitioner is not liable to be granted anticipatory bail.

In view of the above, the bail was rejected and the petition disposed of.[Shesh Nah Yadav v. State of Jharkhand, 2020 SCC OnLine Jhar 790, decided on 09-09-2020]

Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Supreme Court of the United Kingdom: “He tried to strangle me.” What would those words convey to an ordinary reasonable reader of a Facebook post? A bench of Lord Reed, Deputy President and Lord Kerr, Lady Black, Lord Briggs and Lord Kitchin considered the above-framed question while deciding an appeal in a case of defamation filed respondent-husband against the appellant, her former wife.

Ronald Stocker was the former husband of the appellant, Nicola Stocker. Their marriage ended in acrimony in 2012. Mr Stocker subsequently formed a relationship with Ms Deborah Bligh. On 23 December 2012, an exchange took place between Mrs Stocker and Ms Bligh on Facebook where Mrs Stocker informed Ms Bligh that Ronald had tried to strangle her. She also said that Ronald had been removed from the house following a number of threats that he had made; that there were some “gun issues”; and that the police felt that he had broken the terms of a non-molestation order. These statements and the allegation that Ronald had tried to strangle her were the basis on which Ronald took proceedings against her for defamation.  

Ronald claimed that the meaning to be given to the words “tried to strangle me” was that he had tried to kill her. Mrs Stocker denied that the words bore that meaning. The High Court, however, ruled in favour of Ronald. Thus, Mrs Stocker filed the present appeal. 

The Supreme Court did not agree with the approach of the trial Judge. The Supreme Court was of the view that his approach produced an obviously anomalous result. The phrase “he strangled me”, on his analysis entails a less serious accusation than the phrase “he tried to strangle me”. This was the consequence of confining the meaning of the words exclusively to dictionary definitions. According to the Supreme Court: “Where a statement has more than one plausible meaning, the question of whether defamation has occurred can only be answered by deciding which single meaning should be given to the statement”.

It was observed: “The primary role of the court is to focus on how the ordinary reasonable reader would construe the words. To fulfil this obligation, the court should be particularly conscious of the context in which a statement is made. The hypothetical reader should be considered to be a person who would read the publication”.

It was opined that the fact that this was a Facebook post is critical and it was necessary for the judge to keep in mind the way in which such postings are made and read. The Court said: “It is unwise to search a Facebook post for its theoretical or logically deducible meaning. The search for meaning should reflect that this is a casual medium in the nature of a conversation rather than a carefully chosen expression. People scroll through Facebook quickly and their reaction to posts is impressionistic and fleeting”.

It was held that through relying on the dictionary definitions, the trial Judge fell into legal error. As a consequence of this, he failed to conduct a realistic exploration of how an ordinary reader of the Facebook post would have understood it. As a result of this error of law, the decision on meaning could not stand and it was felt appropriate by the Supreme Court to determine the meaning of the post itself. In Court’s opinion, an ordinary reader of the post would have interpreted it as meaning that Mr Stocker had grasped Mrs Stocker by the throat and applied force to her neck. 

In light of this, it was held that the defence of justification should succeed. Even if Mrs Stocker’s allegations were considered not to have been established to the letter, there was more than enough to demonstrate that that defence should not fail by reason only that the truth of every charge was not proved. [Stocker v. Stocker, [2019] 2 WLR 1033, dated 03-04-2019]